British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that “Christmas is on” on Tuesday as the British government struck a deal with CO2 producers to avoid food shortages.
Johnson rejected fears of the knock-on-effects of rising gas prices that could force families to choose between “heating and eating” this winter.
U.S.-owned CF Industries was temporarily shut down after a 70 per cent rise in wholesale gas prices made them loss-making, but has reportedly agreed to reopen two fertilizer plants in Teeside and Merseyside, which makes up for 60 per cent of the UK’s carbon dioxide usage, reports the Daily Mail.
The gas is used in a wide range of food-related processes, such as meat packaging, refrigeration systems, animal slaughter, and the production of cheese, fruit and vegetables, among other items.
When asked if Brits would struggle in the winter, Johnson said, “No, because I think this is a short-term problem caused by the energy problems, the spikes in gas prices, and like many of the other supply issues we are seeing, including food, are caused by the world economy waking up after a long time in this suspended animation caused by Covid.”
“We will do whatever we can to address the supply issues but this is a short-term problem,” he added.
When asked about concerns over bills going up, with food and jobs being under threat, Johnson said “I really don’t think that is justified,” adding, “Christmas is on.”
Speaking before the deal with CF emerged, Johnson said: “On the carbon dioxide issue that's particularly important for some industries, we're taking direct steps to make sure that that continues to be available.”
Asked whether that meant subsidies, he said: “We'll do what's necessary and you'll be hearing a bit more about that later on in the day.”
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, told BBC Radio 4 that the situation could worsen if a resolution isn’t found and gas production isn’t started soon. “We've been saying for several months now that the just in time system is under the most strain it's ever been in the 40 years it's been there,” he said.
“We've heard poultry production would begin to erode very seriously by the end of this week, we know the same is true of pig production, and bakery products and meat packaging are probably a week behind,” he warned, “'so we've got around 10 days before shoppers and diners start to realise those products aren't available.”
Prof Stuart Hazeldene, a carbon capture and storage expert at the University of Edinburgh, stressed that ministers should look toward shipping in extra CO2 from Europe to make up for the shortfall.
“There are around 10, one of the nearest is a fertiliser plant near Oslo and there is an established shipping route from that plant into Teeside with small specialised boats that can import food-grade carbon dioxide,” he said.
Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “This crisis highlights the fact that the British food supply chain is at the mercy of a small number of major fertiliser producers (four or five companies) spread across northern Europe. We rely on a by-product from their production process to keep Britain's food chain moving.”
“We've had zero warning of the planned closure of the fertiliser plants in Ince and Stockton-on-Tees and, as a result, it's plunged the industry into chaos,” he said.
“We urgently need the secretary of state for business to convene the big CO2 manufacturers to demand that they coordinate to minimise disruption, and provide information to Britain's businesses so contingency plans can be made,” Allen concluded.