The UK government has agreed to subsidise operating costs at the CF Fertilisers ammonia plant at Billingham in the north of England for a three-week period, as part of a strategy to avert a CO2 crisis in the food industry.
A byproduct of the ammonia production process, CO2 is used across the food industry, from packaging through to stunning pigs and poultry pre-slaughter.
CF Fertilisers produces around 60% of UK CO2 needs, but had decided to close its two sites in England last week in response to escalating gas prices.
The UFU will be closely monitoring the situation
According to the UK government, the three-week period when it will subsidise manufacture is to give the CO2 industry time to adjust to these high gas prices.
Commenting, UFU president Victor Chestnutt said that the crisis that unravelled in recent days highlights the vulnerability of food supply chains.
“The UFU will be closely monitoring the situation going forward and hopes that the problem will not arise again,” he said.
Chestnutt also highlighted on-going concerns around labour issues in pig processing, with a backlog of pigs currently on NI farms. If a CO2 shortage had been added to that it would have been “disastrous” he suggested.
Right across the UK, there is a shortage of workers in the food industry
At the Balmoral Show on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said that he has pressed all relevant UK government ministers to address the labour shortage in the food industry by changing immigration rules.
“Right across the UK, there is a shortage of workers in the food industry.
“That really needs to change – it’s going to take a number of weeks to get those people in from the Philippines and elsewhere to do the jobs, but they are available.
“We need to get the food from the field on to people’s plates,” he said.
He warned that unless the situation is addressed by government, it could lead to a bizarre situation of food shortages on shelves, and healthy animals slaughtered on farms, and taken to rendering.