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Food Industry Is Desperate For Government Help As CO2 Crisis Threatens Shortages Within Days

3 min read

The food and drink industry is waiting nervously for the government to spell out how it plans to prevent products running out in the coming days as a result of the CO2 shortage.

A severe shortage of the gas, caused last week by the closure of two fertiliser plants, has prompted warnings that meat processing could come to a complete halt in the next week or so, PoliticsHome revealed on Friday. CO2 is used in slaughterhouses as well as to package and chill meat. 

The British Meat Processors Association on Monday told PoliticsHome that while some companies had enough supplies of CO2 to keep them going for the next couple of weeks, others had just one day's worth and would be forced to stop processing imminently.

The British Soft Drinks Association has also warned that fizzy drinks could disappear from shelves and menus this time next week without urgent government action.

The body's director general, Gavin Partington, said some manufacturers "have only a few days of CO2 supply left in reserve" and that suppliers are currently not scheduling beyond 24 hours in advance.

"If soft drinks manufacturers cannot get hold of CO2 supplies after their reserves have run out, production of certain products will have to cease," he said.

AG Barr, the company responsible for drinks like Irn Bru, Rubicon and Tizer, on Monday said its production risked being disrupted if the gas crisis affecting the UK and Europe gets worse.

Stephen Barclay, the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, this afternoon convened a special meeting of government ministers including Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Environment Secretary George Eustice as the government tries to get a grip of the issue.

The two plants which shut down last week, owned by CF Industries and located in Durham and Cheshire, are thought to account for between 40 and 60% of the country's CO2 supplies.

The US company's chief executive, Tony Wills, has flown into the UK for emergency talks with ministers, with the government under pressure to get the plants back up and running as soon as possible.

Kwarteng tweeted that him and Wills discussed "explored possible ways forward to secure vital supplies" in a meeting on Sunday.

PoliticsHome revealed on Friday that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had been warned that certain food and drink products would run out within days as a result of the sharp drop in CO2 supplies.

The shortage, prompted by gas prices soaring in the UK and around the world, is on top of ongoing disruption to supply chains caused by the country's chronic lack of lorry drivers, processors and other workers. 

In an indication of the strain being felt before the CO2 crisis erupted, the Food and Drink Federation's outgoing CEO Ian Wright last week revealed that one in five orders by the hospitality industry were not arriving as a result of the labour shortages.

The meat industry faces being acutely impacted by CO2 shortages and not just in the form of product shortages.

The National Pig Association's Rebecca Veale this morning warned there was already 100,000 pigs backed up on farms due to a dearth of slaughterhouse workers and that there was not room for any more. 

Processing being brought to a stand still could be "potentially catastrophic" for the industry, she told BBC Radio 4, with a mass cull of pigs a very real possibility.

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “We are monitoring this situation closely and are in regular contact with the food and farming organisations and industry, to help them manage the current situation. 

“The UK benefits from having access to highly diverse sources of gas supply to ensure households, businesses and heavy industry get the energy they need at a fair price.” 

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