GB food shortages caused by CO2 crisis: Serious concerns that Northern Ireland could be impacted

Northern Ireland’s retail sector is taking warnings that the crisis in the UK’s carbon dioxide (CO2) supply is likely to cause some food shortages “very seriously”.

Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 7:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 7:55 am

The gas is used in food packaging and as a method of stunning animals prior to slaughter but supplies are running low.

Spiralling energy costs have led to the suspension of operations at fertiliser plants – which produce CO2 as a by-product – having a knock-on effect on the food industry.

CO2 is injected into the packaging of perishable foods such as meat and salads to inhibit the growth of bacteria. It typically prolongs the shelf life of products such as beef steak by around five days.

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Empty shelves in the meat aisle of a branch of Tesco in Liverpool on Tuesday September 21. Shoppers will start noticing shortages within days as a result of the crisis in carbon dioxide (CO2) supply, a food industry chief has warned. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

The halt to CO2 production comes as supply chains are already grappling with a shortage of HGV delivery drivers, heaping yet more pressure on UK supermarkets.

Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts there is real concern about the issue,

“We take this problem very seriously given its likely impact on the food supply chain,” he said. “Retail NI is engaging with its membership to ascertain the extend of the problem locally. We urge consumers to continue to shop as normal”.

Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the Government must urgently ensure adequate supplies of CO2 for UK food producers.

“Disruption to CO2 supplies could not come at a worse time, with the shortfall of 90,000 HGV drivers already putting severe pressure on food production and distribution across the UK,” he said. “Retailers are working with their suppliers to manage this issue as best they can, but it is vital that Government takes immediate action to prioritise key suppliers and avoid significant disruption to food supplies.”

The BBC reported last night that the UK government had struck a deal with US company CF Industries to restart production of carbon dioxide (CO2) at plants in Cheshire and Stockton-on-Tees. Details of the deal are not known but it could take as long as three days for the factories to start producing CO2 again.

The Ulster Farmers Union was in talks last night with unions from England, Scotland and Wales about the issue. It is understood they are monitoring the situation but are not yet clear what impact the government deal will have on NI.

Ian Wright, CEO of the UK Food and Drink Federation, said last night: “If today’s conversations on shortages have given the CO2 manufacturers enough confidence to restart production, this is to be welcomed.

“We don’t yet have the detail, but if production can restart at appropriate scale before the end of the week, this should be enough to ensure pig and poultry production can continue at close to normal. There will be some shortages, but these will not be as bad as previously feared.” He said that “resilience” must then be built into CO2 production for the UK.