The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has raised concerns over an impending shortage of CO2, which could cause some meat production businesses to grind to a halt once current stocks run out, which it estimates could occur in less than 14 days.
The BMPA has said that the shortage could result in companies having to close production lines leading to a logjam of animals back to the farms – a situation already facing the pig industry which could pose the imminent prospect of a humane cull on farms.
It also warned that whilst companies producing beef and lamb could continue producing retail packs of meat, without CO2 used in the vacuum packing process up to 5 days shelf life would be lost, and given the current food chain disruption caused by a lack of HGV drivers, this could pose an additional problem for retailers.
The shortage is a result of fertiliser producers and, by extension their Co2 customers in the food and drink industry, being reliant on energy and commodity prices, as well as demand for ammonium nitrate staying high. If one of these gets thrown out of balance factories either slow production or, in this extreme case, completely mothball plants, the BMPA explained, resulting in Co2 supplies drying up.
CO2 supplies are being moved around between countries and companies to the extent that it is not known how much European CO2 the British food industry relies on or how much is in the system at any one time. Concerns over the situation are rising following the news that multiple plants in Europe are to be closed.
“This crisis highlights the fact that the British food supply chain is at the mercy of a small number of major fertiliser producers (four or five companies) spread across northern Europe,” said Nick Allen, CEO of the BMPA. “We rely on a by-product from their production process to keep Britain’s food chain moving.”
The Association said the problem is strategic in nature, and so needs a strategic response from the Government. To tackle the current crisis BMPA is lobbying the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for Government support to help prop up UK CO2 production short-term, as well as urging the Government to take a firmer stance with the UK CO2 producers.
Nick Allen said: “This time, we’ve had zero warning of the planned closure of the fertilizer plants in Ince and Stockton-on-Tees and, as a result, it’s plunged the industry into chaos. We urgently need the Secretary of State for Business to convene the big Co2 manufacturers to demand that they coordinate to minimise disruption, and provide information to Britain’s businesses so contingency plans can be made.”