Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said he is hopeful the production of CO2 will resume at the two temporarily close CF Fertiliser plants ‘very soon’.
In an interview, on the BBC Radio 4 Today, Mr Kwarteng said he been speaking to the company’s CEO over the past couple and indicated the Government was prepared to subsidise the company to ensure CO2 production can resume. He said the Government was looking at different ways to provide support on a temporary basis to ensure production can get up and running.
“Time is of the essence and that is why I have spoken to the company’s CEO twice over the past two days. We are hopeful we can get something sorted today and get something up and running in the next few days,” he said.
CFF is responsible for the production of 60% of the UK’s CO2 needs as a by-product, largely supplying hospitals, nuclear plants and food manufacturers, while the pig sector is reliant on it for slaughter. The two plants in the north of England have been shut down due to soaring gas prices.
The UK meat and farming sectors have been calling for Government intervention amid fears processing plants are about to run out of CO2 within the next fortnight.
Pilgrim’s Andrew Saunders, currently chairman of the British Meat Processors Association, told the BBC there was no alternative to stunning with CO2.
“80% of pigs in the UK are slaughtered in about 10 abattoirs, and those abattoirs all use CO2 stunning systems. We already face some challenges regarding keeping those abattoirs operational – some shortage of labour in those plants.”
He said pigs can be kept on farms for only ‘a very short period of time’ and once they go beyond their target slaughter weight, the are ‘unsuitable for size of packets we have for our customers’.
“We hope the government can turn around to intervene to get these CO2 plants up and running again,” he said.
Cranswick CEO Adam Couch said the shortages will compound the ongoing challenge of labour availability and, taken together, they will create significant disruption to the entire food supply chain, he warned.
“I call upon the Government to act immediately to avert a major crisis in the food industry. The sector has been asking for support to ease the labour crisis, and now C02 shortages could effectively bring production to a halt throughout the supply chain,” he said.
“The industry is already at tipping point ahead of the demanding Christmas period. We have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep food on the shelves, but there is a real risk of product shortages across the country if the Government does not act immediately to address these issues.”
BMPA chief executive Nick Allen said: “If we lose CO2 then we won’t be able to operate and the consequence will be those animals end up staying on the farm. It’s almost unthinkable,” Allen said. “In the worst-case scenario, if the CO2 dries up, about four or five days after that the shelves will be empty of British pork and British poultry. It is that quick.”
The NPA has warned that, with an estimated 110,000 pigs already backed up on farms due to labour shortages, further delays in slaughtering could accelerate the pig industry towards an on-farm cull.
“If this CO2 shortage is not resolved very quickly, we are a couple of weeks away from being forced to cull perfectly healthy animals on farm and throw them in the bin. It is also completely wasteful and it’s completely financially ruinous,” the NPA’s chief executive Zoe Davies told ITV news last night.