The government is confident that the problem with carbon dioxide (CO2) production, which has led to fears of food shortages in the UK, can be resolved within a few days.
Speaking on Sky News, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said a resolution to the issues was “pretty imminent” and added: “I’m very confident and hopeful that we can sort it out by the end of the week.”
CO2 is used to stun animals before slaughter, in chilled food packaging and in the production of fizzy drinks.
A number of suppliers have shut their factories as a result of the rising price of natural gas, causing concerns about empty shelves in supermarkets and a shortage of turkeys for Christmas.
The UK’s largest CO2 supplier, CF Industries, which supplies the gas as by-product of its fertiliser production, closed two of its plants in northern England last week, and according to broker Liberum, citing The Grocer, major UK CO2 distributor Air Liquide has suffered a power outage at its plant in Cheshire, which will affect production for a week or so.
Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that any assistance was still being discussed after he spoke to Tony Will, the chief executive of CF Industries.
“Time is of the essence, and that’s why I spoke to the CEO, speaking to him twice in the last two days, and we’re hopeful that we can get something sorted today and get the production up and running in the next few days.”
Kwarteng said any agreement “it will come at some cost… it may come at some cost, we’re still hammering out details, we’re still looking at a plan”.
Noting that CF Industries supplies 60% of Britain’s CO2, Kwarteng told Sky News: “I think we have to have a diversity of sources of carbon dioxide there.”
Andy Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said shoppers may notice empty shelves at supermarkets “in about 10 days”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Wright described the CO2 supply shortage as “a real crisis”.
He said poultry production may begin to erode by the end of this week, as will pig production and bakery goods, while meat packaging is only a week behind.
Shares in meat processing company Cranswick PLC (LSE:CWK) (LSE:CWK) and meat packing group Hilton Food Group PLC were unchanged and 0.71% higher respectively in early afternoon on Tuesday, while fizzy drinks makers AG Barr (LSE:BAG) PLC and Britvic PLC (LSE:BVIC) were up 0.77% and 0.34% respectively.