Buyers could start noticing food shortages within days due to the carbon dioxide (CO2) supply crisis, a food industry chief has warned.
CO2 is used in food packaging, as well as a method of stunning animals before slaughter – but now supplies are running out.
Soaring energy costs have led to the suspension of operations of fertilizer factories – which produce CO2 as a by-product – having a ripple effect on the food industry.
Consumers could start to notice shortages of poultry, pork and baked goods within days, according to Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation.
He said the government should support fertilizer producers, help food producers seek alternatives to CO2 and address labor shortages in the industry.
Mr Wright said the crisis comes on top of Brexit issues and a shortage of truck drivers.
“We have been saying for several weeks now that the just-in-time system that underpins both our supermarkets and our hospitality industry is the most strained in 40 years,” he told BBC Radio 4 Today’s program.
“It’s a real crisis.
Poultry production will start to decline significantly by the end of this week, as will pork production, he warned.
He added that the production of bakery products and meat packaging was “probably only a week behind.”
“We probably have about 10 days before it gets to the point where consumers, buyers and diners notice these products are not available,” he said.
It comes as Warburtons said on Tuesday its production of crumpets has so far been unaffected by the CO2 shortage, but the company is monitoring the situation “closely”.
Richard Griffiths, managing director of the British Poultry Council, told the BBC: “We raise and slaughter around 20 million birds per week, the vast majority of which are chickens.
“We also trade, so the total consumption in this country is around 30 to 35 million birds per week.
“It will be a real challenge if there is such a CO2 shortage that slaughterhouses cannot process the birds. It really is the worst case scenario, which is why we are so hopeful that the government can intervene here. “
Company secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he had talks with fertilizer company CF Industries, which has suspended operations at two UK sites due to the high cost of energy, leading to CO2 supply problems.
“Time is running out, and that’s why I’ve spoken to the CEO, I’ve spoken to him twice in the past two days, and we’re hoping we can sort something out today and start production in the next few days., ” he said.
Earlier, he insisted that the energy price cap “remained” despite some energy companies calling for its removal.
He told Sky News that the UK’s largest energy companies could be offered state-guaranteed loans in exchange for hiring clients from small suppliers in the event of bankruptcy.
“It costs a business to absorb up to hundreds of thousands of customers from another business that has gone bankrupt, it costs money, and there could well be a provision for some kind of loan and that has been discussed, ”he said.
But the business secretary stressed that he did not want to “throw taxpayers’ money” on businesses that have been “badly run”.
The shortage warnings are the latest in the food industry.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, had previously warned of a carbon dioxide and worker shortage leading to The “canceled” Christmas dinners.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tried to reassure the public, saying the Christmas cancellation was “not at all the plan” despite the prospect of a turkey shortage and an expected increase in COVID-19 cases during the holiday season.