Carbon dioxide should be near the top of the Government’s agenda today. It is one of those things that nobody thinks about until the lack of it threatens to undermine UK food security, and so here we are. Food grade CO2 is a by-product of the fertiliser industry, and with rocketing prices of natural gas two of the biggest fertiliser plants in the country have decided to suspend operations indefinitely as it is no longer commercially viable.
Yet the lack of CO2 could have enormous knock-on effects for crucial industries. There is a priority list for CO2 users in an emergency – nuclear power, healthcare, and livestock production – and we need Government to act on that. We use CO2 in the slaughter process, packaging, and chilling stages of poultry meat production. If any of those stages is slowed or interrupted then so is the food supply, it really is as simple as that.
In the UK we produce 20 million chickens every week and it is a key part of both retail and food service. We have recently seen the effects of labour shortages have had on parts of the hospitality sector, and this new crisis will only compound the problem. Multiply that across other food sectors and that means a lot of food either going to waste or not getting to where it is needed.
We have dealt with CO2 shortages before, but this feels different. We need Ministers to recognise the national interest here and step in to help, because the risk of food shortages should be unthinkable. A commitment has been made at the highest levels of Government to ‘save Christmas’ and it has to start here and now.