The current crisis could see meat disappear from the shelves of shops and supermarkets across the UK within two weeks, an expert has said.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, has said the country could be two weeks away from British meat disappearing from supermarket shelves.
Talking on Sky News about the impact of losing the supply of CO2 after fertilising plants shut down due to high energy prices, Mr Allen said: “The meat industry, in particular the pig and poultry industry, use CO2 for humane slaughter. Eighty per cent of pigs and poultry are slaughtered using that process.
“CO2 is a by-product of fertiliser. Those plants closed, and they account for about 60% of the CO2 produced in this country. They closed at very short notice with no warning. It really hit us cold.
“We’re hoping and praying the Government can negotiate with these plants to reopen. But even then, it’ll take about three days to restart.”
Mr Allen said meat manufacturers have said they have between five and 15 days’ supply left.
He added: “Then they will have to stop. That means animals will have to stay on farms. That will cause farmers huge animal welfare problems and British pork and poultry will stay off the shelves. We’re two weeks away from seeing some real impact on the shelves.”
Earlier today the managing director of Iceland supermarket warned of possible shortages in the run-up to Christmas..
Richard Walker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that suppliers who are looking at some of the stock they hold and their just-in-time chains are suggesting this “could become a problem over the coming days and weeks”.
He said: “This is not an issue that is months away, that is for sure.
“We are building up our stocks on key lines like frozen meat just to make sure we can deal with any unforeseen issue.
“At the moment we are fully stocked and our suppliers are OK, but we do need this sorted as quickly as possible.”
A sharp rise in gas prices has meant two large fertiliser plants in Teesside and Cheshire – which produce CO2 as a by-product – have shut, cutting supply to the food industry.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, says this, combined with a shortage of workers, will affect the supply of Turkeys for Christmas.
CO2 is essential to the humane slaughter of livestock, extends the shelf-life of products and is vital to cooling systems for refrigeration purposes, industry leaders have said.
Mr Boparan said: “There are less than 100 days left until Christmas and Bernard Matthews and my other poultry businesses are working harder than ever before to try and recruit people to maintain food supplies.
“Nothing has fundamentally changed since I spoke about this issue in July. In fact, I take no pleasure in pointing out that the gaps on the shelves I warned about then are getting bigger by the day.
“The supply of Bernard Matthews turkeys this Christmas was already compromised as I need to find 1,000 extra workers to process supplies. Now with no CO2 supply, Christmas will be cancelled.
“The CO2 issue is a massive body blow and puts us at breaking point, it really does – that’s poultry, beef, pork, as well as the wider food industry.
“Without CO2, the bottom line is there is less throughput and with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had meetings on Saturday with a number of industry leaders over the CO2 shortage.
He said on Twitter there is no “cause for immediate concern” over the supply of gas in the UK.
But Mr Boparan went on to say: “When poultry cannot be processed it means they must be kept on farms where there are potential implications for animal welfare, so the overall effect is welfare compromised and greatly reduced supply. Ready meals lose that vital shelf life. There is potential for massive food waste across the board.
“This is clearly a national security issue and unlike the labour supply crisis, where the Government response to our sector has been disappointing to say the least, it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
“I’d like to see CO2 supplies prioritised for the food sector so UK supply can be maintained and for the Government to support these fertiliser plants who are saying they’ve switched off because of the rising price of natural gas.
“It really beggars belief when such a key infrastructure operation can arbitrarily decide to switch off the taps because of price inflation. It is irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector.
“We can’t just down tools because of inflation. In my businesses, you have to roll up your sleeves as best you can and tackle it head-on. Giving up and saying ‘inflation is too high’ is not an option.”
He added: “It’s tough enough having one hand tied behind our backs by simply not having enough people to supply food.
“With the CO2 on top of this, both hands are tied. Government need to act now or we’ll have another cancelled Christmas.”
Ian Wright, the chief executive of the UK Food and Drink Federation, told BBC Radio 4 on Saturday the Government needs to make an “intervention” on gas prices.
He went on to say: “Assuming that doesn’t happen, I would have thought that the impacts would be felt probably not by this time next week, but into the week after that.
“And of course, that’s concerning because we’re beginning to get into the pre-Christmas supply period when warehouses begin to pick up, build up their stocks, ready for the push to Christmas a few weeks later.”
A Defra spokesman said: “We are aware of the issues faced by some businesses and are working closely with industry to provide support and advice.
“We have had extensive meetings with representatives from the meat production and processing sectors, and we are continuing those conversations over the weekend.
“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.
“Our exposure to volatile global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”
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