Soaring gas prices fuelling fears of UK meat production 'crisis'

The soaring price of gas could see meat production in the United Kingdom hit by a shortage of carbon dioxide gas as ministers enter crisis talks with manufacturers.

Carbon dioxide is used to stun pigs and chickens prior to slaughter and in packaging and is a by-product of fertiliser production.

However, due to high gas prices two of the UK’s largest fertiliser plants paused production on Thursday.

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This has led to immediate pressures on the poultry and pork industry as around 60 per cent of the country’s supply of carbon dioxide comes from these plants.

Soaring gas prices have impacted food production due to shortages of carbon dioxide.Soaring gas prices have impacted food production due to shortages of carbon dioxide.
Soaring gas prices have impacted food production due to shortages of carbon dioxide.
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Industry groups have warned this could lead to shortages in supermarkets and the potential of hundreds of thousands of animals being subject to a welfare cull.

Despite this, The Scotsman has been told the impact on the food processing industry in Scotland is likely to be minimal due to a lower reliance on carbon dioxide because of the prevalence of cattle and sheep farming, which does not use the gas in the same quantities.

UK Government ministers have entered crisis talks, with industry figures to monitor the problem.

But Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said the problems highlighted the fragile nature of the supply chain.

He told the BBC: "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. We rely on a by-product from their production process to keep Britain's food chain moving.”

British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths added: “With fewer than 100 days to go until Christmas, and already facing mounting labour shortages, the last thing British poultry production needs is more pressure.

"If CO2 supplies become tighter and more unpredictable, then supply chains will have to slow down. Ultimately, no CO2 means no throughput."

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The issue of carbon dioxide supplies was initially caused by the soaring price of natural gas, which caused two fertiliser plants owned by US firm CF Industries Holdings to suspend production.

Gas prices have risen by around 250 per cent since January and 70 per cent since August, the industry group Oil and Gas UK said, meaning many energy suppliers face being unable to provide gas to customers.

Despite the concerns, COP26 president Alok Sharma told Sky News there was no “immediate concern” around gas supply to the UK.

He told the Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme: “The clear message that is coming out of this is that there is no immediate concern in terms of supply, we don’t see any risks going into the winter,”

“People should be confident that the supplies will be there and that we will be protecting them in terms of price rises. But, of course, we are not complacent about this.”

Responding, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Energy and gas supply are reserved issues. Scottish ministers will continue to press the UK Government to take urgent steps to maintain security of our energy supplies, and to support domestic, business and industrial consumers given the current market conditions.”

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