The government is bracing itself for supplies of beer, fizzy drinks and meat to be hit by a severe shortage of CO2, with supermarkets and restaurants expected to be affected in the coming days.
By Adam Payne
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was warned on Thursday that shortages of CO2, caused by the closure this week of two major fertilizer plants, would affect manufacturers across food and drink industry, PoliticsHome understands.
CO2 is used in the production of beer and fizzy drinks, and is also vital in meat processing.
The British Poultry Council's Richard Griffiths said the gas is used in slaughterhouses, as well as the packaging and chilling of chickens, and warned that the industry was "very rapidly heading into a downward spiral towards supply chains seriously struggling."
He told PoliticsHome: "After five to seven days we'll start to see sigificant problems in processing birds."
The two plants in question, owned by CF industries and located in Durham and Cheshire, are believed to account for somewhere between 40 and 60% of the country's CO2 supplies.
Griffiths urged ministers to prioritise CO2 supplies for food production in order limit the disruption of supplies to supermarkets and hospitality businesses as much as possible.
The government may have to bail out the two plants to avert a deeper crisis, he said.
CF industries said they were forced to close them due to soaring gas prices and gave no indication of when they will resume production, Bloomberg reported.
A government spokesperson said: "We are monitoring this situation closely and are in regular contact with the food and farming organisations and industry, to help them manage the current situation.
“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.”
The CO2 shortage is set to compound ongoing disruption to food and drink supplies caused by chronic shortages of lorry drivers, processors, and other workers in the UK's supply chains.
The labour shortages, which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus and Brexit, have resulted in household names like McDonald's, Gregg's, and the Co-op running out of certain items in recent weeks, with the disruption expected to worsen in the coming weeks in the run-up to Christmas.
The government last week responded to the ongoing disruption by setting up a cross-departmental group "to monitor labour supply chains."
Chaired by Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Stephen Barclay, it will meet once a week and be attended by ministers from DEFRA, the Home Office, Department for Transport and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
However, ministers are still refusing to make it easier for British companies to hire lorry drivers and other workers from Europe by adding them to the Shortage Occupation List.
Multiple trade bodies have said doing so would help abate the labour shortages in the short-term. However, the government has told employers to recurit British workers instead.
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