CO2 shortage could become a ‘major crisis’ for meat supplies, says Norfolk poultry producer

Chickens at a farm in Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Chickens at a farm in Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

The ongoing shortage of food-grade CO2 gas is 'turning into a major crisis' for the meat industry, said a Norfolk poultry farmer.

The supply issues which have already hit stocks of beer and carbonated drinks could also have a major impact on poultry and pork, as many producers use the gas to stun animals before they are slaughtered, and also to help preserve packed meats.

Mark Gorton, joint managing director at Traditional Norfolk Poultry in Shropham, near Attleborough, said his business was likely to run out of CO2 by Monday or Tuesday.

He said limited gas deliveries prioritised for poultry businesses should be enough to keep his slaughter process running – although other businesses may not be so lucky – but he may have to stop using CO2 on the packing line, which could reduce the shelf life of the meat by as much as 20%.

Last week, as news of the gas shortage emerged, Mr Gorton said he didn't believe it would be a significant issue – but as the situation continues, he said it is now 'turning into a major crisis' for the meat industry.

'From our perspective we still have a stocks of CO2 but are running out fast – we are on a priority list due to the nature of our business and are receiving limited deliveries,' said Mr Gorton, who is also a member of the National Farmers' Union's poultry board.

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'We won't be in a position where we will have to stop, however I know that other factories that use CO2 in much larger quantities than us are in a serious situation, it is certainly turning into a major crisis and with the current weather, things are not looking good.

'We have been told that there is one plant in the UK producing very limited quantities, but nowhere near enough to satisfy demand, and there is also a very limited amount coming in from abroad.

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'We are still being told that the bulk of the ammonia plants should be up and running by next week but it could take two or three weeks before normal service levels are resumed.'

British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen said the situation was getting 'pretty tight', exacerbated by the hot temperatures.

'The frustration is the lack of information,' he said. 'We understand that several (CO2) producers are reopening plants and restarting production, but getting information is very difficult, which makes it very difficult to plan.

'Things are getting pretty tight and this hot weather won't be helping. If things don't alter this week, we're going to see people having to make some serious decisions, mainly in the pig production area.'

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