Brechin pig plant faces CO2 shutdown next week

Scotland’s main pig processing plant is expected to run out of CO2 on Tuesday next week, halting the unit’s 6000-pig-a-week production line.

Due to a major leak in an ammonia plant that produces CO2, causing it to be shut down, and another large plant being shut for maintenance, there is currently a total shortage of CO2 gas in the EU, affecting a number of UK industries, including meat processing.

The big pig processing companies have been looking at contingency plans if CO2 does run out, but the indications are the Brechin plant will be struggling next week. The plant is due to accept pigs on Monday, with current indications being that no further intake from producers will be possible for the rest of next week.

“CO2 shortage is obviously much bigger than just a meat sector issue but the problem we’re facing is getting the gas suppliers to even commit to a date when they might deliver,” said Scottish Pig Producers (SPP) chief executive, Andy McGowan. “That means we could take a delivery in the next hour but at present were not looking beyond Monday.”

The Brechin plant, which is run by Quality Pork Ltd (QPL), in collaboration with Tulip, SPP and the marketing cooperative, Scotlean, uses CO2 as part of pre-slaughter stunning process.  This follows a market-driven upgrade in stunning methods installed last year as part of the plant’s restoration after a fire which shut the plant for four months.

“We have a bit of slack in our system which will allow farmers to hold pigs for a while, so it’s not an immediate disaster,” said Mr McGowan. “However, as time goes on, it will become increasingly difficult to hold pigs on farms.

“Our concern is that there is a window of time on a commercial front when we can cope with this. Our top priority, therefore, is welfare which means we can’t allow pigs to become over-crowded on farms. The immediate requirement will be to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Industry leaders in Scotland are already pressing for CO2 usage in pig processing to be given priority status over other uses, such as the production of soft drinks.

Scottish Government officials are also working on the problem under the direction of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Fergus Ewing.

“It’s a real worry that there’s only a handful of CO2 suppliers in Europe and that for various reasons their output is being curtailed at present,” said Mr Ewing. “This is clearly an urgent matter for the pig sector, which we are taking extremely seriously. It’s in everyone’s interest that we resolve the CO2 supply curtailment as quickly as possible.”

The minister was speaking after heading the launch of Scotland’s new pig industry strategy which is geared to double the value of Scottish pig sector output to £500 million by 2030.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “At the moment, the issue is different for every plant so we advise producers speak to their marketing group or processor if concerned.

“We are not aware of any major disruption at other plants yet, but clearly this situation may change should the gas supply situation not be resolved. In any case, it would be sensible for all producers to think about what they would do should supply be disrupted. AHDB will be issuing some helpful guidance soon.”

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has said it is ‘very concerned’ about the shortage. BMPA deputy director Fiona Steiger said: “Supply is running out and it’s pretty tight for some people. Others hope to be able to see it out.”

The British Poultry Council (BPC) has called on the government and gas producers for help in light of the shortages, warning that the shortage could have a ‘potentially huge effect’ on British food production.

BPC chief executive Richard Griffiths said: “With the supply of CO2 tightened across Europe, the BPC is calling on government and major gas producers to prioritise supplies to slaughterhouses and keep the food chain moving. It is worrying that failures in the gas sector can have such a potentially huge effect on British food production.”

 

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Freelance journalist Colin Ley is Pig World's website news reporter