Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, has warned the decision by the US owner of two of Britain’s biggest carbon dioxide (C02) producers to halt production could jeopardise food supplies and ruin Christmas unless Government intervenes to solve the crisis.
Carbon dioxide is used to stun poultry before slaughter and is also used in packaging to extend shelf-life. In combination with the current labour shortages, the latest problems could be “catastrophic for our sector.”
Boparan said: “There are less than 100 days left until Christmas and Bernard Matthews and my other poultry businesses are working harder than ever before to try and recruit people to maintain food supplies. Nothing has fundamentally changed since I spoke about this issue in July. In fact I take no pleasure in pointing out that the gaps on the shelves I warned about then are getting bigger by the day. The supply of Bernard Matthews turkeys this Christmas was already compromised as I need to find 1,000 extra workers to process supplies. Now with no C02 supply, Christmas will be cancelled.
“The C02 issue is a massive body blow and puts us at breaking point, it really does – that’s poultry, beef, pork, as well as the wider food industry. Without CO2, the bottom line is there is less throughput and with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge.”
A commercial decision by CE Industries to halt fertiliser production at two plants in the UK (at Stockton-on-Tees and Ince in Cheshire) – where CO2 is the main by-product – means food processing and production plants owned by Boparan will lack the ability to produce at normal levels – meaning less meat across the UK.
“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.
“This is clearly a national security issue and unlike the labour supply crisis, where the Government response to our sector has been disappointing to say the least, it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. I’d like to see C02 supplies prioritised for the food sector so UK supply can be maintained and for the Government to support these fertiliser plants that are saying they’ve switched off because of the rising price of natural gas.
“It really beggars belief when such a key infrastructure operation can arbitrarily decide to switch off the taps because of price inflation. It is irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector. We can’t just down tools because of inflation. In my businesses, you have to roll up your sleeves as best you can and tackle it head on. Giving up and saying ‘inflation is too high’ is not an option.”