UK shoppers have been warned to expect food shortages by the end of the week with some suppliers predicting “farmageddon” within 10 days.
The shortage of HGV drivers and other workers that has hit the food and retail sector has been compounded by new backlogs at abattoirs and processing plants caused by a shortage of CO2 gas.
“Across industry there is a united view that the situation is worsening, with little prospect of additional CO2 supply unless the UK government intervenes,” writes Ian Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation in a letter to George Eustice, secretary of state for food and rural affairs.
Carbon dioxide – CO2 – is a critical gas for many parts of the food and drink industry – especially the meat industry where it used for stunning and killing animals, as well as in packaging to prolong the shelf life of fresh foods.
Some 60% of the UK’s supply of CO2 comes from the by product of two fertiliser plants – however both plants were temporarily closed last week after they became uneconomical following a spike in global gas prices.
Spiralling ‘totally out of control’
“This is no longer about whether or not Christmas will be OK – it’s about keeping the wheels turning and the lights on so we can actually get to Christmas,” said Iceland’s boss Richard Walker, commenting the impact of the gas shortage. “This could become a problem over the coming days and weeks, so this is not an issue that’s months away.”
Rob Mutimer, chair of the National Pig Association (NPA) has warned the situation is “going to spiral completely out of control” without government intervention. The NPA says there are already 100,000 pigs awaiting slaughter because of the labour and gas shortages. If the situation continues, more pigs will have to be slaughtered on farms, which removes them from the food chain.
“And the only endgame is farmers are going to end up slaughtering our livestock, not for the food chain but to put them into rendering, to dispose of carcasses like what happened in foot and mouth,” said Mutimer.
NPA technical director David Limpars says the pork industry is facing “farmageddon” in the next 10 working days while a spokesperson for the British Poultry Council (BPC) said CO2 shortages will become evident by next week.
Director of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Andrew Opie, said: “It is vital that government takes immediate action to prioritise key suppliers and avoid significant disruption to food supplies.”
Business rates risk to UK’s £400 bn retail sector
Elsewhere, the BRC is claiming “four in five retailers will see store closures” with a new report showing the “devastating impact of business rates” ahead of the publication of the government’s fundamental review of the tax.
The survey of major retailers states “83% say they are likely or certain to close stores” unless business rates reduce and the BRC are calling on the government to take immediate action to reduce the burden on retailers.
More than three million people are employed in the retail sector which is responsible for £400 billion in consumer spending each year states the report, which also shows one-in-four stores pay more in business rates than in rents.