Bernard Mathews owner Ranjit Singh Boparan warned of a lack of food supply.
The owner of Britain’s biggest poultry supplier has said that Christmas dinner could be “cancelled” due to a lack of carbon dioxide gas (CO2).
A sharp rise in gas prices means that two large fertilizer plants in Teesside and Cheshire – which produce CO2 as a by-product – are cutting supplies to the food industry.
Bernard Mathews and Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of Two Sisters Food Group, say this will affect Turkey’s supply for Christmas along with labor shortage.
Industry leaders have said that CO2 is essential for the humane slaughter of livestock, extends the shelf life of products and is important for cooling systems for refrigeration purposes.
Mr Bopran said: “There are less than 100 days left until Christmas and Bernard Matthews and my other poultry businesses are working harder than ever to try and recruit people to maintain the food supply. Huh.
“Nothing has changed fundamentally since I spoke about this issue in July. In fact, I’m not happy to report that the shelves I warned about are being blown off day by day. Getting bigger.
“This Christmas supply of Bernard Matthews turkeys was already compromised because I need to find 1,000 additional workers to process the supply. Christmas will be canceled with no CO2 supply now.
“The CO2 issue is a massive body blow and puts us at breaking point, it really does – that is poultry, beef, pork, as well as the wider food industry.
“Without CO2, the bottom line is that there is low throughput and our region is already compromised with labor shortages, potentially suggesting us on edge.”
Business Secretary Quasi Quarteng held a meeting with several industry leaders on Saturday on the reduction of CO2.
He said on Twitter that there is “no cause for immediate concern” over gas supplies in the UK.
But Mr Bopran added: “When poultry cannot be processed it means they have to be kept on farms where there are potential impacts to animal welfare, so the overall impact of welfare is compromised and supplies are significantly in the offing.” There is a shortage. Prepared food loses that important shelf life. There is potential for massive food waste across the board.
“This is clearly a national security issue and, unlike the labor supply crisis, where the government’s response to our sector has been disappointing to say the least, it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
“I want to prioritize CO2 supplies for the food sector so that the UK can keep up with the supply and the government can support these fertilizer plants that they are saying have closed because of the rising price of natural gas.
“It really beggars confidence when such a major infrastructure operation can decide to arbitrarily close the tap due to price inflation. This is irresponsible and destructive to our region.
“We cannot reduce the means because of inflation. In my businesses, you have to roll up your sleeves as much as you can and tackle it all. Giving up and saying ‘inflation is too high’ is not an option.”
He added: “It’s quite difficult to tie a hand behind our backs because of not having enough people to supply food.
“With CO2 on top of it, both hands are tied. The government needs to act now or we will cancel another Christmas.”
UK Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright told BBC Radio 4 on Saturday that the government needed to “interfere” on gas prices.
He continued: “Assuming that this does not happen, I would have thought that the effects would probably be felt not by this time next week, but in the week after that.
“And of course, it’s concerning because we’re starting to get into the pre-Christmas supply period, when warehouses start lifting, building up their stock, ready for Christmas a few weeks later. “
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are aware of the issues facing some businesses and are working closely with the 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 access to highly diverse sources of gas supply to ensure that homes, businesses and heavy industry get the energy they need at reasonable prices.
“Our exposure to volatile global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong, domestic renewable energy sector to further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”