Christmas dinners could be stuffed in gas crisis: More urgent talks to be held

19 September 2021, 08:01 | Updated: 19 September 2021, 08:41

By Asher McShane

Christmas dinners could be under threat this year due to the shortage of carbon dioxide gas (CO2).

A rise in gas prices caused two large fertiliser plants in Teesside and Cheshire – which produce vital CO2 as a by-product – to shut, cutting supply of CO2.

The owner of the UK’s biggest poultry supplier has said the gas shortage, and a shortage of workers is going to affect the supply of Christmas turkeys.

There are also concerns over the supply of geese with the cost of wheat going up, and suppliers struggling with increased production costs. A caller told LBC that suppliers are struggling to bring day old geese to the UK to be reared for Christmas.

He said a combination of Brexit red tape and costs going up in places like Germany, France and Spain were going to affect the UK's supplies this Christmas.

READ MORE: Winter gas supply not cause for 'immediate concern', Business Secretary says

The owner of Bernard Matthews warned Christmas could be cancelled this year
The owner of Bernard Matthews warned Christmas could be cancelled this year. Picture: Alamy

Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner of Bernard Matthews and 2 Sisters Food Group, says this, combined with a shortage of workers, will affect the supply of Turkeys for Christmas.

More emergency talks are due to take place between the energy regulator and the government today over the rising gas prices.

Labour is accusing ministers of a "fundamental failure" in long-term planning. However the business secretary has insisted supply this winter isn't a cause for immediate concern.

Mr Boparan said: "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."

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had meetings on Saturday with a number of industry leaders over the CO2 shortage.

He said on Twitter there is no "cause for immediate concern" over the supply of gas in the UK.

But Mr Boparan went on to say: "When poultry cannot be processed it means they must be kept on farms where there are potential implications for animal welfare, so the overall effect is welfare compromised and greatly reduced supply. Ready meals lose that vital shelf life. There is potential for massive food waste across the board.

"This is clearly a national security issue and unlike the labour supply crisis, where the Government response to our sector has been disappointing to say the least, it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

"I'd like to see CO2 supplies prioritised for the food sector so UK supply can be maintained and for the Government to support these fertiliser plants who are saying they've switched off because of the rising price of natural gas.

"It really beggars belief when such a key infrastructure operation can arbitrarily decide to switch off the taps because of price inflation. It is irresponsible and catastrophic for our sector.

"We can't just down tools because of inflation. In my businesses, you have to roll up your sleeves as best you can and tackle it head-on. Giving up and saying 'inflation is too high' is not an option."

He added: "It's tough enough having one hand tied behind our backs by simply not having enough people to supply food.

"With the CO2 on top of this, both hands are tied. Government need to act now or we'll have another cancelled Christmas."

A Defra spokesman said: "We are aware of the issues faced by some businesses and are working closely with industry to provide support and advice.

"We have had extensive meetings with representatives from the meat production and processing sectors, and we are continuing those conversations over the weekend.

"The UK benefits from having access to highly diverse sources of gas supply to ensure households, businesses and heavy industry get the energy they need at a fair price.

"Our exposure to volatile global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels."