UK’s largest chicken producer says industry is at ‘breaking point’
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The UK’s largest chicken producer has warned the meat industry is at the breaking point and called on the government to tackle a gas crisis that is now threatening the country’s food production.
The meat industry faces a severe carbon dioxide shortage after soaring gas prices prompted two major UK fertilizer factories to halt production.
The factories, which are owned by the US group CF Industries, account for around 60 percent of the UK’s commercial supply of CO2 as a by-product of fertilizer manufacturing. CO2 is used in the chicken industry to stun birds for slaughter, as well as in controlled atmosphere packaging, which prolongs shelf life, and for refrigeration.
Ranjit Boparan, owner of 2 Sisters Food Group, whose businesses also include turkey processor Bernard Matthews, urged the government to step in and support the two closed factories. Without a CO2 supply, “Christmas will be canceled,” Boporan added, stressing the risk to the turkey supply.
Boparan’s intervention follows a warning from the British Poultry Council that processing plants only hold 5 to 7 days of CO2 on site. As a result, the UK industry could quickly face slaughter issues that would lead to meat shortages and welfare issues on farms. The industry treats around 20 million birds per week.
The government is scrambling to respond to disruptions triggered by record gas prices, whose crippling effect on energy-intensive sectors like fertilizer manufacturing has trickled down to the food industry.
Online supermarket Ocado said Friday night it had cut back on delivery of frozen food due to a shortage of dry ice, which is made from CO2 and used to keep items cool.
“I would like the CO2 supply to be a priority for the food industry so that the UK supply can be maintained and the government backs up these fertilizer factories that say they have shut down due to the rising price of natural gas, ”Boparan said in a statement. “I’ve never seen anything like it since I started in 1992.”
The Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs held an emergency meeting with meat processors and trade groups on Thursday, and further discussions are expected on Monday. The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said the CO2 shortage would cause “massive disruption” within two weeks.
Boparan said “Gaps on the shelves… Are getting bigger by the day. The supply of Bernard Matthews turkeys this Christmas was already in jeopardy as I have to find an additional 1,000 workers to process the supplies. Now with no CO2 supply, Christmas will be canceled. ”
Birds can also be electrically stunned. About half of slaughterhouses have access to equipment for this method, but switching to electric stunning would result in a 30% drop in processing capacity at those factories, the British Poultry Council said.
Pork processors also use CO2, as both sectors are already suffering from labor shortages that have reduced processing capacity. 2 Sisters said it has typically faced a 10 percent labor shortage this year, as well as “unprecedented wage inflation.”
The National Pig Association has warned that processing labor shortages have already resulted in 100,000 surplus animals being saved on farms, and discussions are underway about slaughtering healthy pigs.
Nick Allen, Managing Director of BMPA, said: “This crisis highlights the fact that the UK food supply chain is at the mercy of a small number of large fertilizer producers (four or five companies) spread across northern Europe. We rely on a by-product of their production process to keep the UK food chain moving. “