Poultry slaughterhouses ‘should be prioritised’ over fizzy drinks amid CO2 shortage

Chickens at a farm in Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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

Poultry slaughterhouses should get priority supplies of dwindling CO2 stocks in a gas shortage which could have a 'potentially huge effect' on food production, said industry leaders.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) has asked the government and gas producers to give them priority to 'keep the food chain moving'.

Beer and fizzy drinks companies have warned of possible shortages caused by a lack of CO2 as the UK enters peak consumption amid World Cup festivities and summer barbecues.

But meat producers are also concerned as CO2 is often used in the poultry slaughter process, and in the packing of fresh meats.

BPC chief executive Richard Griffiths said: 'With the supply of CO2 tightened across Europe, the BPC is calling on government and major gas producers to prioritise supplies to slaughterhouses and keep the food chain moving.

'We are assessing what the possible impact on food supply might be, and BPC members are working hard to minimise the effect.

'It is worrying that failures in the gas sector can have such a potentially huge effect on British food production.

'The BPC will be working closely with Defra, BEIS, retailers and gas suppliers to implement contingency plans and mitigate any major impact on sustainable supply of food.'

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Mark Gorton is a director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry (TNP) based in Shropham, near Attleborough, and a member of the National Farmers' Union's poultry board.

He said his gas supplier had told him normal deliveries would resume from July 2, but the company is 'not likely to run out of gas in the short term' – and there are contingency plans in place.

'We use CO2 in the stunning system as part of the slaughtering process, and we also use it to pack the products to give it a good shelf life,' he said.

'In both instances we have a back-up option, and in the case of stunning the poultry the back-up system is an electrified water bath system which we used to use before we used CO2. It is humane and high-welfare, so it is not really a problem. And we can still sell our product but it might lose a bit of shelf life.

'It is not really a crisis – and I don't really know anyone in the industry for who it would be. It might just mean a change of practices.'

The shortages are understood to have been caused by a longer-than-usual break in production of ammonia, one of the key sources of food grade CO2 in Europe – which is used to carbonate drinks and preserve some packed fresh foods.

Trade journal Gas World said the shortage had been described as the 'worst supply situation to hit the European carbon dioxide (CO2) business in decades'.

READ MORE: Pubs and brewers in East Anglia face anxious wait as CO2 shortage threatens World Cup beer suppliesThe UK was hit particularly hard as only one major CO2 plant was operating earlier this week and imports from the continent had been affected by shut-downs in Benelux and France.

It said many consumers of CO2, especially carbonated drinks producers, were desperate for supplies of the product, and the shortage appeared to be likely to continue for the remainder of June 'at least'.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has also said it is 'very concerned' about the shortage, as CO2 is used in packing fresh meat and salads.

BMPA deputy director Fiona Steiger said: 'Supply is running out and it's pretty tight for some people. Others hope to be able to see it out.

'We don't know when supplies will be back up. We've been told it could be about a month.'

A government spokesman said: 'The government is aware that there are reports of a CO2 shortage affecting the food and drink sector, and that industry is working to find a solution.

'Whilst this is an issue for industry, the government is in contact with the relevant companies and trade associations, including those within the food and drink sector and main CO2 suppliers.'