CO2 crisis: What carbon dioxide is used for and why it’s causing mass UK food shortages

BBC News: Possible food shortages at Christmas

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Crumpets, beer and Christmas dinner are all said to be at risk in the latest UK food supply crisis. Soaring gas prices have forced two of the UK’s biggest producers of Carbon Dioxide to halt production. But why is CO2 causing mass UK food shortages? And what food items are at risk?

Two of the UK’s biggest Carbon Dioxide production sites halted production on Thursday 16, September due to soaring gas prices, prompting fears of food shortages. 

The two CO2 production sites, owned by American company CF Industries, are responsible for 60 percent of the UK’s CO2 production and are based in Billingham in Stockton-on-Tees and Ince in Cheshire. 

In a statement on their website, CF industries said: “The Company does not have an estimate for when production will resume at the facilities.”

The Times reported the UK Government has prioritised talks with CF Industries amidst fears about the disruption to the UK’S food supply chain. 

Tony Will, chief executive of CF Industries, has arrived in the UK for talks with the UK Government.

This latest stall to the UK’s food supply chain comes after months of uncertainty due to a shortage of HGV lorry drivers. 

The CO2 crisis threatens to exacerbate an already precarious situation, with retailers worrying about empty shelves as well as food production for Christmas 2021. 

Why does the food supply chain need CO2?

CO2 is used for many different processes in the food industry. 

For meat farming, CO2 is needed to stun pigs and poultry before they are killed. 

It is also used in the production of dry ice, which is essential for transporting food without it spoiling. 

Losing CO2 for preserving the freshness of foods, while lorry driver shortages mean there are also delays in transporting fresh food, could spell disaster.

Furthermore, CO2 is used in the production of crumpets, beer and fizzy drinks. 

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Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, spokesperson from Pilgrim’s Pride – the UK’s leading pig farming operation – Andrew Saunders said that as this is a global problem, importing meat from other countries in Europe may be unlikely, especially with the lorry driver shortages. 

The logistical challenge of slaughtering pigs while they’re at their slaughter weight, and being able to transport their meat to supermarkets, could see farmers having to cull pigs if the delays become too large. 

Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, is holding meetings with those in the industry who are hoping the government can offer them a lifeline against the rising fuel costs.

Why is there a CO2 shortage?

There’s been a global surge in demand for fuel, especially from Asia, and a reduction in supply.

In Europe, the very cold winter of 2020 put pressure on supplies, meaning the amount of stored gas is lower than normal. 

In the UK specifically, our renewable energy sources haven’t produced as much as usual, as we’ve had the least windy summer in 60 years. 

Last week only 9 percent of power across Britain was from wind. 

According to Oil & Gas UK, the wholesale price of gas has increased by 250 percent since January. 

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