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A shortage in CO2 could result in Christmas being “cancelled” this year, as it threatens to disrupt the food supply and the nation's access to turkeys.
Earlier this month, spiralling energy prices forced two large fertiliser plans in Teesside and Cheshire - which account for about 60 per cent of the UK’s commercial supply of CO2 - to suspend production.
CO2 is essential to the humane slaughter of livestock, extends the shelf life of products and is vital to cooling systems for refrigeration purposes.
Nick Allen, the chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said the country could be two weeks away from British meat disappearing from supermarket shelves.
He told Sky News on Monday that pork and poultry would be particularly affected, with 80 per cent of pigs and poultry slaughtered using that process.
"We're hoping and praying the Government can negotiate with these plants to reopen. But even then, it'll take about three days to restart,” he said.
Gaps on shelves 'getting bigger by the day'
Meat manufacturers have between five and 15 days' supply left, he estimated, adding: "Then they will have to stop. That means animals will have to stay on farms. That will cause farmers huge animal welfare problems and British pork and poultry will stay off the shelves.
“We're two weeks away from seeing some real impact on the shelves."
Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said the shortage was exacerbating existing supply chain problems caused by a lack of HGV drivers, noting the “gaps on the shelves” from the summer were “getting bigger by the day”.
He added: “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 CO2 supply, Christmas will be cancelled.
“The CO2 issue is a massive body blow and puts us at breaking point, it really does … with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge.”
Richard Walker, the managing director of Iceland, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that some of his suppliers had warned the issue "could become a problem over the coming days and weeks” and potentially disrupt Christmas.
"This is not an issue that is months away, that is for sure,” he added. “We are building up our stocks on key lines like frozen meat just to make sure we can deal with any unforeseen issue.”
Downing Street will be particularly sensitive to any headlines suggesting Christmas could be cancelled after last year, in which the Government had to back down on its promise to keep festivities on the road at the last minute.
James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister, said the Government was working to address "some short-term shortages".
He told Sky News: "We will ensure that we are able to put food on the tables, that is a real priority."
In the longer-term, he said the Government wanted to ensure "the UK is increasingly self-sufficient in terms of good production, logistics chains, HGV drivers and so on."