Co2 crisis hits British meat industry
The Billingham and Ince fertiliser plants, two units that we're providing 60% of the UK's food grade Co2, will suspend production indefinitely as a result of high natural gas prices. "The announcement came from their New York listed owner, CF Industries, and piles even more pressure on the UK meat processing industry which relies on Co2 as one of its inputs. We're also hearing rumors that a similar situation is developing in Spain," announced the British Meat Processing Association (BMPA).
This means that, once their current stocks of the gas run out (estimated to be in less than 14 days) some companies will have to stop taking animals and close production lines, leading to a logjam of animals back to the farms. This situation has been seen in the British pig industry, which is now facing the imminent prospect of a humane cull on farms.
For other companies producing beef and lamb they could continue producing retail packs of meat but without Co2 used in the vacuum packing process, up to 5 days shelf life would be lost. Given the current food chain disruption caused by a lack of HGV drivers, this could pose an additional problem for retailers.
Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association said: “This crisis highlights the fact that the British food supply chain is at the mercy of a small number of major fertiliser producers (four or five companies) spread across northern Europe. We rely on a by-product from their production process to keep Britain’s food chain moving.”
To tackle the current crisis BMPA is lobbying the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for Government support to help prop up UK Co2 production short-term. BMPA also wants Government to take a firmer stance with the UK Co2 producers. Nick Allen said: “This time, we’ve had zero warning of the planned closure of the fertilizer plants in Ince and Stockton-on-Tees and, as a result, it’s plunged the industry into chaos. We urgently need the Secretary of State for Business to convene the big Co2 manufacturers to demand that they coordinate to minimise disruption, and provide information to Britain’s businesses so contingency plans can be made.”
A worrying fact is that the Co2 market is very opaque. Supplies are moved around between countries and companies to the extent that British meat producers do not know exactly how much European Co2 the British food industry relies on or how much is in the system at any one time. Worryingly, multiple plants in Europe, where the British meat industry would have turned to for emergency supplies, are also to be closed.
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