Pig farmers are nearing crisis point due to a carbon dioxide (CO2) shortage at abattoirs and they could have to start killing their own animals.
Abattoirs use CO2 to stun animals before slaughter, but are running short of supply due to soaring energy costs and some suppliers of gas having halted production.
Kate Morgan who is a pig farmer said, “Thousands of pigs are backlogged on farms.
“If we can’t kill our pigs in an abattoir, then unfortunately we will be resorting to killing them on farms.”
Morgan who runs a farm near Driffiels East Yorkshire, told BBC’s 5Live Wake up to Monday programme that the situation was already “pretty dire” due to labour shortages as a result of Brexit and Covid.
She warned that the UK is now facing a meat shortage at supermarkets, whilst industry experts said we could see a shortage of meat supplies within two weeks.
Morgan’s farm send 1,500 pigs to the abattoir each week, but she could be forced to kill her own pigs.
She said killing her own pigs is something “I can’t even begin to think how we would do it. I don’t want to put people who work for us in that situation.”
Andrew Saunders, a director at the UK’s biggest pig producer, Pilgrims Pride told the BBC that there is no alternative to stunning with CO2, as “it is an essential part of the process.”
Saunders who is the also chairman of the British Meat Processor Association, said, “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.”
Pigs can be kept on farms for only “a very short period of time. They go beyond their target slaughter weight, they’re then unsuitable for size of packets we have for our customers,” Saunders said.
He added, “We hope the government can turn around to intervene to get these CO2 plants up and running again.
“The particular plants in question supply about 60% of all UK needs and something’s required here to get this going pretty quickly.”
CO2 is a by-product of fertiliser and is used by the meat industry, which is also used to keep food fresh.
Adam Couch, the chief executive of pork producer Cranswick warned the sector was “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,” Couch said.
Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland, said, “We’re now as a business building up our stocks on key lines like frozen meat just to make sure we can deal with any unforeseen issues. But at the moment we’re fully stocked, our suppliers are OK, but we do need this sorted as quickly as possible.”
He added, “The thing that has shocked me is that 60% of [CO2] production is concentrated in two factories which are both owned by a foreign business.
“This is something that’s clearly critical to national security – not just food but also healthcare as well.
“So it seems quite perplexing that it’s at the whim of a private enterprise in terms of whether it’s profitable or not and therefore whether they produce the stuff or not.”