While talk of the introduction of measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions dominated much of the political chatter at the Royal Highland Show yesterday, in an ironic twist, it emerged that a shortage of the gas could be set to affect several sectors.
And chief among those could be the pig industry, where shortage of CO2 – a critical component in the most humane pre-slaughter stunning process – could halt production at Scotland’s largest processing facility in Brechin.
Andy McGowan, chief executive of Scottish Pig Producers, said that while the problem had only become apparent over the past few days, a shortage of bottled gas meant that production at the plant – which normally handles more than 6,000 pigs a week – could be halted early next week.
McGowan said that while there might be some flexibility in the system, the biggest fear was that any extended closure would lead to a backlog of pigs on farms, which would put a stress on both space and feed supplies.
He added: “And of course it has to be accepted that supermarkets will be unlikely to want to see their shelves left empty of bacon and other pork products – so hard-won contracts might go to suppliers in other countries. And sadly this is likely to be for longer than just the spell in which production at the plant has ceased.”
The commercial production of CO2 – often a by-product from the manufacture of farm fertilisers – has struggled to keep up with demand across Europe. With only three commercial operators in the UK, the planned closure of one plant, together with a breakdown at another has seen the shortage exacerbated in both the UK and Ireland.
And while other sectors such as beer and soft drink production were also likely to be affected, McGowan said he hoped the pig sector would be given some sort of priority as a primary form of food and on welfare grounds.
“However, we have to remember that other industries also have a call on the gas – and it is used in the cooling systems of nuclear power plants and also by the National Health Service.”
Saying that Scotland’s chief veterinary officer had written to the gas manufacturers to stress the sector’s requirements, McGowan added that both the Scottish and Westminster governments were aware of the problem and were attempting to co-ordinate efforts to alleviate the situation.
l A new strategy for Scotland’s pig sector hopes to double the value of its outputs by 2030.
And launching the new initiative at the Highland Show, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said the country’s pig industry also had great deal to be proud of as a pioneer of animal health and welfare.
He said: “Given the uncertainty caused by the impending impact of Brexit, having a clear plan in place for the industry is more important than ever.”
Alan Clarke, chief executive of Quality Meat Scotland, said: “Scotland is only 25 per cent self-sufficient in pigmeat, which presents a huge opportunity for the industry.
“Our pig industry has a great track record of adopting innovation and embracing new technology, and to meet the targets set by the strategy it is important that we continue to seek out opportunities to improve efficiency … and continue to further underpin our health and welfare credentials.”
Key points include the formation of an industry leadership group to drive and monitor progress; the development of collaborative and efficient supply chains; reviewing and building unique selling points for Specially Selected Pork; the use of market intelligence and prompt export certification to maximise carcase balance; reduce the use of antibiotics and zinc oxide; advance progress on eradicating disease, and enhancing welfare.