Minister Alok Sharma said ‘I’m a dad but it isn’t Dad’s Army’ after soaring gas prices led to a shortage of carbon dioxide – a crucial substance for slaughtering chicken and pork
A Tory minister has been forced to deny a ‘Dad’s Army’-style panic amid fears the gas price crisis could lead to empty chicken and pork shelves in two weeks’ time.
Alok Sharma assured Brits there was no “immediate concern” about gas supplies this winter after wholesale prices rose 70% since August.
The President of climate summit COP26 insisted: “People should be confident that the supplies will be there and we will be protecting them in terms of price rises.”
But the meat industry has warned a lack of carbon dioxide, produced as a by-product in fertiliser plants and used in abattoirs, could lead to meat shortages.
Poultry and pork abattoirs are worst-hit because they use CO2 in the slaughtering process itself.
The gas is also used more widely in packaging, including for beef and lamb.
The British Meat Processors Association has estimated supplies of CO2 could run out in two weeks – though some poultry plants have run out already.
BMPA chief executive Nick Allen told the Mirror: “If we can’t get any CO2 into those [poultry and pork] plants, if they run out, that is it – they have to stop processing pigs and poultry. Full stop.
“Probably 85% to 90% of the poultry and pigs on UK farms that get to a process would have to stop. There’s no ‘we can do this a different way’ – it would take enormous restructuring to change the system.
“So fundamentally, if those plants run out of CO2, that’s it, they have to stop.”
He said it would take “days” to filter through to the supply chain and lead to empty shelves.
“Basically if those slaughter lines stop you’re literally talking about days before you get empty shelves.”
Asked if people will find no chicken breasts in their local supermarket in two and a half weeks, he replied: “I really don’t know.”
Mr Allen is due to hold lengthy talks on Monday with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Urging Tory ministers to act fast, he said: “It’s one thing saying ‘don’t worry, gas supplies are going to be fine’, that doesn’t reopen that fertiliser plant that actually produces the CO2. Those fertiliser plants are closed because of the price of gas.”
It comes as Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng meets Ofgem today and holds a round table tomorrow about wholesale energy prices.
There are fears the soaring gas prices could put a string of smaller energy suppliers out of business within days.
Mr Kwarteng has already talks with senior executives from Ofgem, Centrica, National Grid, Energy UK, Octopus, Ovo, SSE, EDF, ScottishPower, Shell Energy, E.ON, Bulb and SGN.
Today Mr Sharma said: “There is no immediate concern in terms of supply, we don’t see any risks going into the winter.
“And when it comes to prices, we of course have an energy price cap, there are also mechanisms such as the warm homes discount to help people as well.
“So people should be confident that the supplies will be there and we will be protecting them in terms of price rises.”
But asked if he would reconsider the £20-a-week Universal Credit cut if prices soar for families, Mr Sharma insisted “we are helping those families” already.
He listed the energy price cap, warm home discount and winter fuel payments.
Mr Sharma was asked if his comments were like those by Lance Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army – who would say ‘don’t panic!’ when there was a moment to panic.
He replied: “This is not about complacency.
“You made the point about Dad’s Army, it’s certainly isn’t that, I mean I’m a dad, but just to be clear it’s nothing to do with Dad’s Army.”
There are fears the CO2 shortage could lead to Christmas being ‘cancelled’ as it would also affect poultry companies.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, said the gas crisis, combined with a shortage of workers, would affect the supply of turkeys for Christmas.
Mr Boparan said yesterday: “There are less than 100 days left until Christmas and Bernard Matthews and my other poultry businesses are working harder than ever before to try and recruit people to maintain food supplies.
“Nothing has fundamentally changed since I spoke about this issue in July. In fact, I take no pleasure in pointing out that the gaps on the shelves I warned about then are getting bigger by the day.
“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 – that’s poultry, beef, pork, as well as the wider food industry.
“Without CO2, the bottom line is there is less throughput and with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge.”
Yesterday Mr Kwarteng insisted: “I was reassured that security of supply was not a cause for immediate concern within the industry.
“The UK benefits from having a diverse range of gas supply sources, with sufficient capacity to more than meet demand.
“The UK’s gas system continues to operate reliably and we do not expect supply emergencies this winter.”