Carbon dioxide shortage poses new threat to poultry industry

A commercial decision on 16 September by the owner of two fertiliser plants to stop production due to rising wholesale prices of natural gas could have serious implications for the poultry industry, the British Poultry Council has warned.

CF Fertilisers, which owns the two plants at Billiingham and Ince, provides 60% of the UK’s carbon dioxide as a by-product. C02 is an essential component of poultry production – used 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 poultry meat and compromise food supply and ultimately food security in the UK, the British Poultry Council said.

Slaughterhouses and processing plants – which process an average of 20 million birds a week – hold limited stock of C02. There is no visibility as to UK stocks or certainty around CO2 deliveries to plants and slaughterhouses as suppliers are not scheduling beyond 24 hours in advance.

BPC chief executive, Richard Griffiths, said: “With fewer than 100 days to go until Christmas, and already facing mounting labour shortages, the last thing British poultry production needs is more pressure. If C02 supplies become tighter and more unpredictable then supply chains will have to slow down. Ultimately, no C02 means no throughput. C02 is vital for hugely important sectors such as nuclear power, healthcare, and food production. These sectors are part of a priority list for Co2 supply. We need the Government to help facilitate and financially support that prioritisation to maintain food supply and avoid bird welfare issues.

“The possible effect on food supply remains uncertain. We are working closely with Defra and BEIS to assess stock, implement contingency plans and mitigate any major impact on a sustainable supply of food. Our members are on a knife-edge situation at the moment. When birds cannot be slaughtered and must be kept on farm there is the potential for welfare, food supply and food waste issues to arise. If vital sectors like the poultry meat industry face C02 shortages that compromise their performance, it will very quickly become an issue of national security. We hope this can be avoided through swift Government action.”

The British Poultry Council is calling on Government to prioritise C02 supplies to poultry meat production on the grounds of maintaining food supply and avoiding bird welfare issues; and financially support, until the end of the year, the UK production of C02 through the continued operation of fertiliser plants.  

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