CO2 shortage threatens UK’s supply of meat, beer and fizzy drinks, reports suggest

Supermarkets and restaurants are expected to be affected due to CO2 gas being instrumental in the production of carbonated drinks and meat processing

The UK is preparing for a severe shortage of CO2 gas which will impact supplies of beer, fizzy drinks and meat, reports suggest.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was warned on Thursday (16 September) of the shortages caused by two major fertiliser plants closing this week.

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • Supermarkets and restaurants are expected to be affected due to gas being instrumental in the production of carbonated drinks and meat processing
  • The drinks industry relies on CO2 to carbonate beverage and the meat industry uses gas throughout processing
  • It’s also been said there is expected to be a shortage of frozen meals and even Christmas turkey due to the CO2 shortage
  • CF Industries Holdings closed two of its plants in Billingham in Stockton-on-Tees and Ince in Cheshire on Thursday. Both of these plants are estimated to account for up to 60% of the UK’s CO2 supplies
  • The firm said it was halting production due to the rising prices of natural gas. There was no indication as to when the plants may resume production

What’s been said

A government spokesperson said: “We are monitoring the situation closely, and are in regular contact with the food and farming organisation 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 British Poultry Council (BPC) warned the industry was heading into a “downward spiral towards supply chains seriously struggling”.

It told PoliticsHome: "After five to seven days we’ll start to see significant problems in processing birds."

The owner of the UK’s biggest poultry supplier has also said the supply of turkeys for Christmas will be affected by the gas shortage.

Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said: “There are less than 100 days left until Christmas and Bernard Matthews and my other poultry businesses are working harder than ever before to try and recruit people to maintain food supplies.”

He said that “the gaps on the shelves” that he had warned about in July were “getting bigger by the day”.

Mr Boparan added: “The supply of Bernard Matthews turkeys this Christmas was already compromised as I need to find 1,000 extra workers to process supplies. Now, with no CO2 supply, Christmas will be cancelled.

“The CO2 issue is a massive body blow and puts us at breaking point, it really does … with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge.”

Background

The BPC has urged the government to prioritise CO2 supplies for food production in order to limit the disruption to supermarket supplies and hospitality. It also asked for financial support for CO2 production until the end of this year.

The UK is also currently facing significant supply and staff shortages due to disruption caused after Brexit and absences due to Covid-related illness.

Nando’s, McDonald’s and KFC have all recently suffered supply issues, with pub chain Wetherspoons also recently facing shortages of popular beer brands.