The Lowdown: the CO2 shortage

By Georgia Bronte contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Lowdown: the CO2 shortage
An unexpected shortage of CO2 has caused chaos for the food and drink industry.

CO2? Isn’t that the stuff we’re trying to create less​ of, not more?
Yes, but this is the food grade, commercial type, made in factories - not the type we breathe out. The food industry uses it for things like adding fizz to carbonated drinks, keeping things cold with dry ice, and stunning animals before they are slaughtered.

Er, yikes. So why are we short of it?
One of the ingredients in food grade CO2 is ammonia, and there has been a break in its production which means no CO2 can be made. The UK only has one major plant in operation this week, and we can’t even import it from Europe because there have also been closures in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

It’s not the best time for it, given it’s the World Cup, is it?
Indeed. For pubs and bars that show the footy it’s a nightmare. Some Wetherspoon pubs are temporarily without draught John Smith's and Strongbow cider, while Punch Taverns, which has about 1,300 pubs, says it has also experienced a shortage of John Smith's, along with Birra Moretti.

Maybe we should start importing beer from Germany until the World Cup is over. They won’t be needing it…
Schadenfreude much? The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) says that brewers are "working their socks" off to ensure the beer continues to flow. "Our message to beer drinkers and England fans is clear: keep calm and carry on going to the pub,” says BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds. Which is pretty solid life advice for most situations, we think. Real ales, which are carbonated naturally by live yeast, are not affected.

Can’t punters just pop to the shop?
The shops have been affected too, and wholesaler Booker –which is the wholesaler that many operators including Wagamama and Carluccio’s rely on - is capping the amount of fizzy drinks and beer that customers can purchase. The limit is 10 cases of beer or soft drinks, which wouldn’t even touch the sides at some establishments.

What about meat?
CO2 is only used in the slaughter of pigs and chickens, so beef is not affected. Quality Pork Limited, in Brechin, Angus, has had to ship 1,000 pigs to a plant near Manchester this week to stun them before slaughtering. That’s about a seven-hour drive for a truck full of pigs, just to bring them straight back again.

Does this mean we might start running low on bacon?
The industry says we are a long way away from that, although the Scottish Pigs Producers co-operative hasn’t ruled out meat shortages and price hikes, and the British Meat Processors Association chief executive says the situation is currently “getting pretty tight”.

What about chicken?
It’s the same situation. Supplies are continuing but have slowed down because the UK’s biggest supplier, 2 Sisters, was hit by the shortage. The abattoir is taking the controversial decision to stun its chickens in electrical water baths before killing them, which we imagine will not go down well with animal welfare campaigners.

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