The UK’s largest poultry supplier has warned due to a shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2) Christmas dinner could be cancelled, as experts are warning there could be a shortage in meat supplies within two weeks.
Two large fertiliser plants in Teeside and Cheshire which produce CO2 for the food industry have been forced to close due to the unprecedented hike in gas prices.
Frozen food is likely to be hit as gas is vital for cooling systems used in refrigeration, and it also helps to extend the shelf life of meat.
There are warnings by industry experts that we could see a shortage of meat supplies within two weeks.
The owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, Ranjit Singh Boparan said, “There are less than 100 days left until Christmas and Bernard Matthews and my other poultry businesses are working harder than ever before to try and recruit people to maintain food supplies.
“Nothing has fundamentally changed since I spoke about this issue in July.
“In fact, I take no pleasure in pointing out that the gaps on the shelves I warned about then are getting bigger by the day.”
He added, “The supply of Bernard Matthews turkeys this Christmas was already compromised as I need to find 1,000 extra workers to process supplies. Now with no CO2 supply, Christmas will be cancelled.
“The CO2 issue is a massive body blow and puts us at breaking point, it really does, that’s poultry, beef, pork, as well as the wider food industry.
“Without CO2, the bottom line is there is less throughput and with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge.”
Brexit and the pandemic has led to labour shortages and the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted that there is “no cause for immediate concern” of gas supplie in the UK.
However, Boparan warned that animal welfare will be comprimised if they have to keep animals on farms if they cannot be sent for slaughter and we will see a significant reduction in the supply of poultry.
He said, “Ready meals (will) lose that vital shelf life.
“There is potential for massive food waste across the board. This is clearly a national security issue and unlike the labour supply crisis, where the government response to our sector has been disappointing to say the least, it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
“It’s really beggars belief when such a key infrastructure operation can arbitrarily decide to switch off the taps because of price inflation. It is irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector.
He added, “It’s tough enough having one hand tied behind our backs by simply not having enough people to supply food.
“With the CO2 on top of this, both hands are tied. Government need to act now or we’ll have another cancelled Christmas.’
A Defra spokesman said, “We are aware of the issues faced by some businesses and are working closely with industry to provide support and advice.
“We have had extensive meetings with representatives from the meat production and processing sectors, and we are continuing those conversations over the weekend.
“The UK benefits from having access to highly diverse sources of gas supply to ensure households, businesses and heavy industry get the energy they need at a fair price.
“Our exposure to volatile global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”
Ian Wright, the chief executive of the UK Food and Drink Federation, told BBC Radio 4, said that the government must take action on gas prices.
Wright warned, “Assuming that doesn’t happen, I would have thought that the impacts would be felt probably not by this time next week, but into the week after that.
“And of course, that’s concerning because we’re beginning to get into the pre-Christmas supply period when warehouses begin to pick up, build up their stocks, ready for the push to Christmas a few weeks later.”