Ranjit Singh Boparan, CEO of Bernard Matthews, has warned that the crisis “could cancel Christmas” unless the government intervenes.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has also spoken out about the current CO2 shortages, warning of massive disruption to the supply chain when stocks of the gas run out in less than 14 days.

It is reported by the British Poultry Council (BPC) that on 16th September the owner of fertiliser plants at Billingham and Ince, CF Fertilisers, took a commercial decision to stop production due to rising wholesale prices of natural gas. CO2 is a by-product of fertiliser production, and according to BPC these two plants provide up to 60% of UK production of CO2, so this decision has compromised that supply.

The poultry meat industry uses CO2 extensively for stunning, packaging, and refrigeration. Additionally, CO2 is used for on farm culling when this becomes necessary.

Shortage of CO2 will severely impact the production of meat and compromise food supply and ultimately food security in the UK. Additionally, welfare issues are of concern if animals cannot be slaughtered as planned.

“Irresponsible and catastrophic”

Boparan said the decision by the US owner of two of Britain’s biggest CO2 producers to halt production is “irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector.”

He continued: “When poultry cannot be processed it means they must be kept on farms where there are potential implications for animal welfare, so the overall effect is welfare compromised and greatly reduced supply. Ready meals lose that vital shelf life. There is potential for massive food waste across the board.”

Boparan called the crisis “a national security issue” that “has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.” He added: “I’d like to see CO2 supplies prioritised for the food sector so UK supply can be maintained and for the government to support these fertiliser plants who are saying they’ve switched off because of the rising price of natural gas.”

The Bernard Matthews boss said that the sector “could not just down tools because of inflation.” He stated: “Giving up and saying ‘inflation is too high’ is not an option.”