Chicken shortage could hit UK supermarkets as industry braces for CO2 shortage

A chicken shortage could hit supermarkets in the United Kingdom as the food industry braces for a shortage of CO2.

Poultry slaughterhouses have called for priority supplies of dwindling CO2 stocks, saying the current shortage could have a "potentially huge effect" on British food production.

The CO2 gas is used for slaughtering chickens and in packaging to prolong the shelf-life of meat.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) has asked the Government and gas producers to give them priority over supplies to "keep the food chain moving".

Beer, fizzy drinks and meat producers have all warned of possible shortages caused by a lack of CO2 as the UK enters peak consumption amid World Cup festivities and summer barbecues.

Nine of the UK’s largest poultry plans are now facing a critical shortage of the gas meaning up to 60% of the UK’s poultry processing plans could soon be out of action.

BPC chief executive Richard Griffiths said: "With the supply of CO2 tightened across Europe, the BPC is calling on Government and major gas producers to prioritise supplies to slaughterhouses and keep the food chain moving.

"We are assessing what the possible impact on food supply might be, and BPC members are working hard to minimise the effect.

"It is worrying that failures in the gas sector can have such a potentially huge effect on British food production.

"The BPC will be working closely with Defra, BEIS, retailers and gas suppliers to implement contingency plans and mitigate any major impact on sustainable supply of food."

The shortages are understood to have been caused by a longer than usual break in production of ammonia, one of the key sources of food grade CO2 in Europe – which is used to carbonate drinks and preserve some packed fresh foods.

Trade journal Gas World said the shortage had been described as the "worst supply situation to hit the European carbon dioxide (CO2) business in decades".

The UK was hit particularly hard as only one major CO2 plant was operating earlier this week and imports from the continent had been affected by shut-downs in Benelux and France.

It said many consumers of CO2, especially carbonated drinks producers, were desperate for supplies of the product, and the shortage appeared to be likely to continue for the remainder of June "at least".

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has also said it is "very concerned" about the shortage, as CO2 is used in packing fresh meat and salads.

BMPA deputy director Fiona Steiger said: "Supply is running out and it’s pretty tight for some people. Others hope to be able to see it out.

"We don’t know when supplies will be back up. We’ve been told it could be about a month."

Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said the situation had started to impact beer producers in the UK.

She said: "We will continue to monitor the situation carefully. However, given the time of year and the World Cup, this situation has arisen at an unfortunate time for the brewing industry."

A spokesman for Wetherspoons told The Guardian: “There’s a good chance that some drinks won’t be available very soon".

Eddie Gershon said the pub chain was monitoring the situation closely with its suppliers to minimise any disruptions.

The shortages come as many prepare to celebrate in pubs and at home as they follow England’s progress in the football World Cup in Russia.

Retailers are also expecting sales of alcohol and soft drinks to be boosted by forecasts of a hot summer running through until August.

The British Soft Drinks Association said in a statement: "The shortage of CO2 across Northern Europe is impacting a wide range of businesses across the food and drink sector.

"Soft drinks producers in the UK are taking active steps to maintain their service to customers including working with their suppliers to mitigate the impact as well as looking at alternative sources."

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