Nick Allen is the chief executive of the British Meat Producers Association. He spoke to us about how the rising price of gas has impacted food supply chains and triggered warnings that animals may have to be culled.
Nick Allen (NA): CO2 is very important from our perspective in terms of (firstly) the humane slaughtering of animals, and secondly, to extend the shelf life of meat. CO2 is a by-product of the fertiliser manufacturing (process) and the fertiliser manufacturers decided it wasn’t economic to actually carry on producing some fertiliser because of the higher gas prices. So as a result, we haven’t got any CO2. They stopped almost overnight producing fertiliser and therefore we lost all the CO2. And that’s essential for us. So at the moment, our members are carrying anything from five days worth (of CO2) to about 15 days worth. If we run out of CO2, we won’t be able to process animals. 80% of our pigs and poultry in this country depend on that humane slaughter method. So we’re not going to be able to take the animals off the farm and we’re not going to be able to get them on the shelves.
Krishnan Guru-Murthy (KGM): Does that mean that you’ve got between five and 15 days for the government to sort this out and get the fertiliser companies going again? Or will there be consequences before that?
NA: It is quite difficult to know how much CO2 there is in storage, really. This is a very diverse supply chain and there’s a lot of suppliers out there. It’s really difficult to get a handle on it as to whether some of those deliveries would come through or not. But if you took the worst case scenario that actually, yes, there were no more CO2 deliveries, (then) yes, we’ve got between five and 15 days before actually we’ve got a real problem.
KGM: If CO2 is crucial to slaughter, what’s going to happen?
NA: It’s almost unthinkable, but actually those animals will have to stay on (the) farm. The farmers will have some real difficult times and there may even have to be some sort of welfare culls take place on farms, which would be absolutely ridiculous. I do believe that the government has been working hard and we’ve been in touch with the government. They have been working hard talking to these fertiliser manufacturers. I sincerely hope that actually somewhere along the line they can find an answer to this and we can get the fertiliser plants open and we can get CO2 because it’s almost unthinkable, the consequences.
KGM: What do you need the government to do? Is it a subsidy to the fertiliser producers to get them going again because they can’t afford the gas at the moment?
NA: We know those conversations are going on and in fairness, they’ve been going on all over the weekend, so everyone’s been working hard. I’m not close enough to it to be able to dictate to the government or suggest to the government what they should negotiate with the fertiliser company. But I do hope there’s actually a serious or grown up conversation going on between the government and this company about how we can arrive at a way where that fertiliser can start to be manufactured again, and then CO2 can come on online. And it’s not for me to say how they should sort of do that. I just hope there’s a really sensible conversation going on about it.
KGM: But this comes on top of all the supply chain issues as well.
NA: Well, yes, the pig side in particular and the poultry side, we already had problems in terms of supply because of the labour shortages. Our members are something like 75% short on staff at the moment. So we had some challenges and this potentially could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I really do hope common sense is going to prevail and a deal is going to be struck.