The UK government has reached a deal with US firm CF Industries to restart CO2 production after it was stopped due to soaring gas prices.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng held talks with the firm today following warnings food supply chains would grind to a halt within a fortnight.
Prime minister Boris Johnson told the BBC: “We’re working with the companies to make sure that we can keep the supplies going.
“On the carbon dioxide issue that’s particularly important for some industries, we’re taking direct steps to make sure that that continues to be available.”
It is understood the government will help cover fixed operating costs for SF for a period of three weeks at a cost of “many millions” of pounds, environment secretary George Eustice told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday (22 September).
The announcement comes after industry outcry that shortages of CO2 would have far-reaching consequences across the food and drinks sector.
The gas is used in the production of fizzy drinks and beer and in the humane slaughter of livestock.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said the decision by CF Industries to halt production was “irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector”.
Boparan said CO2 shortages, combined with recent labour and HGV driver shortages, would “potentially tip us over the edge”.
He said shortages of CO2 have wider effects on animal welfare. “When poultry cannot be processed it means they must be kept on farms where there are potential implications for animal welfare, so the overall effect is welfare compromised and greatly reduced supply. Ready meals lose that vital shelf life. There is potential for massive food waste across the board.” he said.
“It 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. We can’t just down tools because of inflation. In my businesses, you have to roll up your sleeves as best you can and tackle it head on. Giving up and saying, ‘Inflation is too high’ is not an option.”
Some meat processors have resorted to reactivating old electrical stunning equipment in order to preserve CO2 for packaging. These machines are said to be 30% slower than methods using CO2.
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