Why is there a CO2 shortage in the UK? Gas crisis explained - and how it could impact food supplies

Carbon dioxide is a gas used in the slaughter of animals, but supplies have been cut in the wake of rising energy costs

The taxpayer could pay tens of millions of pounds to subsidise a major US-owned fertiliser manufacturer to ensure the supply of CO2 for the food sector continues amid the energy crisis.

A deal brokered by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng will see the UK Government provide “limited financial support” towards CF Fertilisers’ running costs to prevent a food supply shortage at Britain’s supermarkets.

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The agreement will be in place for three weeks while the “CO2 market adapts” to the surge in global gas prices, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis).

It comes after many warned that CO2 shortages could become a problem in the run-up to Christmas.

CO2 is used across numerous industries, from stunning animals for slaughter, extending the shelf life of food, aiding in surgical operations and cooling nuclear power plants.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why is there a CO2 shortage?

The problem has been caused by the shutting down of two large fertiliser plants in Teesside and Cheshire – which produce CO2 as a by-product – with the owners citing the hike in gas prices as their reason for closing.

Wholesale prices for gas have surged 250% since January – with a 70% rise since August alone, leading to calls for support from the industry.

“Those plants closed, and they account for about 60% of the CO2 produced in this country,” said Allen. “They closed at very short notice with no warning. It really hit us cold.

“We’re hoping and praying the Government can negotiate with these plants to reopen. But even then, it’ll take about three days to restart.”

How realistic are food shortages?

(Image: JPIMedia/NationalWorld)

No 10 has insisted the UK food chain is “incredibly resilient” amid warnings of shortages due to a lack of CO2.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “We’ve got a highly resilient food supply chain in the UK, we’ve seen that throughout the pandemic, and we will obviously continue to work with industries that are facing issues to ensure that remains the case.”

But Richard Walker, the managing director of Iceland supermarket, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that suppliers who are looking at some of the stock they hold are suggesting this “could become a problem over the coming days and weeks”.

He said: “This is not an issue that is months away, that is for sure. We are building up our stocks on key lines like frozen meat just to make sure we can deal with any unforeseen issue.

“At the moment we are fully stocked and our suppliers are OK, but we do need this sorted as quickly as possible.”

How could it affect Christmas?

Christmas dinners could be “cancelled” due to the shortage of CO2, the owner of the UK’s biggest poultry supplier has said.

Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said the CO2 shortage, combined with a shortage of workers, will affect the supply of turkeys.

Boparan 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.

“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.”

What can be done about it?

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng arrives in Downing street (Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

A deal brokered by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng will see the UK Government provide “limited financial support” towards CF Fertilisers’ running costs to prevent a food supply shortage at Britain’s supermarkets.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice said the final details of the agreement were still being worked on but “it’s going to be into many millions, possibly the tens of millions” - and the taxpayer could be paying for it.

Eustice defended the decision to pump tax money into the firm, saying It was “justified for the Government to intervene in this way, in a very short-term, targeted way” because “if we didn’t, there would be a risk to our food supply chain – that’s not a risk the Government is willing to take”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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