The food sector is facing a fresh shortage of CO2 gas that could 'dwarf' the crisis that led to widespread food and drink shortages in 2018.
A 70% rise in wholesale gas prices last month has prompted US-owned CF Industries to stop production at its two fertiliser plants in Teeside and Merseyside, which produce 60% of the UK's CO2.
The gas is used to stun animals for slaughter, package meat and also in refrigeration systems. It is also used in fizzy drinks, beer, cheese, fruit and vegetables and crumpets, among other items.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “It’s not just a food issue, it’s an animal welfare issue.
“Production of chicken and other poultry will be pretty severely impacted in the next few days . . . The continuity of food supply to Christmas is right on the edge.”
Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng told Parliament on Monday (20 September) that the Government was monitoring the situation 'minute by minute' and has 'explored quite thoroughly possible ways to secure vital supplies [of CO2]'.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, who owns Bernard Matthews, 2 Sisters Food Group and the Boparan Restaurant Group, has described CF Industries decision to stop production as 'catastrophic' and warned that Christmas 'could be cancelled'.
He said: “There are less than 100 days left until Christmas and Bernard Matthews and my other poultry businesses are working harder than ever before to try and recruit people to maintain food supplies.
“Nothing has fundamentally changed since I spoke about this issue in July.
“In fact I take no pleasure in pointing out that the gaps on the shelves I warned about then are getting bigger by the day.
"The supply of Bernard Matthews turkeys this Christmas was already compromised as I need to find 1,000 extra workers to process supplies.
“Now with no CO2 supply, Christmas will be cancelled.
“The CO2 issue is a massive body blow and puts us at breaking point, it really does – that’s poultry, beef, pork, as well as the wider food industry.
“Without CO2, the bottom line is there is less throughput and with our sector already compromised with lack of labour, this potentially tips us over the edge.”
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) has said some of its members only had a few days of CO2 supply left in reserve.
It said: “As it stands, most CO2 suppliers are currently not scheduling beyond 24 hours in advance, meaning there is no visibility as to UK stocks and no certainty around deliveries.
“If soft drinks manufacturers cannot get hold of CO2 supplies after their reserves have run out, production of certain products will have to cease.”
Craft beer breweries also fear their production will be thrown into chaos by shortages of carbon dioxide.
While bigger drinks producers have been able to access CO2 recovery plants, smaller breweries said they were reliant on the main suppliers.
Responding to Wright's comments, UKHospitality Kate Nicholls tweeted: "Shockwaves through the supply chain - again - and this will hit hospitality businesses. The problem is resilience is low, businesses fragile and continued shocks damaging."