Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary has requested an urgent meeting with her counterparts in London over fears of CO2 shortages and the impact on food and drink producers.
Fears about supplies of CO2, or carbon dioxide, in the UK prompted a short-term deal between the government and CF Fertilisers to guarantee supplies.
Concerns about shortages arose after two fertilizer factories that produce the majority of the UK’s CO2 announced they would close.
The factories produce the gas as a by-product before it is used in the production of soft drinks and beer, as well as in food packaging to extend shelf life and to keep deliveries chilled.
CO2 is also needed to stun animals prior to slaughter, and the NHS uses it is as a coolant for medicines.
The UK Government announced a three-week deal to support American firm CF Fertilisers to restart production of the gas.
But as the deal period comes to an end, the Scottish Government has called for urgent talks to avert shortages.
Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said that despite the deal coming to an end the UK Government had not announced a contingency plan.
Ms Gougeon said a failure to secure supplies of the critical gas could have a significant impact on the agricultural sector and the wider food and drink industry.
The SNP minister added: “The failure of UK Ministers to address meaningfully the crisis for Scotland’s food and drink industry is unacceptable.
Government ‘needs to outline plans to save Scotland’s food and drink industry from further harm’
“I am also concerned that, even if CO2 supplies are secured, increased costs will be incurred which will be passed on to other parts of the supply chain at a time when it is vulnerable to price fluctuations.
“That simply cannot happen – businesses cannot afford to absorb these costs, and should not have to, given this crisis is entirely UK made.”
She called on the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, to organise a joint meeting with ministers from devolved nations on the issue.
“He needs to outline the UK Government’s plans to save Scotland and the UK’s food and drink industry from further harm, particularly to secure alternative CO2 supplies.
“Most importantly, he needs to come up with a plan to support businesses through this crisis.”
It was reported the deal was costing the taxpayer millions, but Mr Eustice said the government was required to act over food shortage fears.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has also raised fears of shortages as the deadline for the short-term support nears.
They said several slaughterhouses were reporting “dwindling supplies” of CO2.
A spokesperson for the trade body told one newspaper they were “quite concerned” not to have had an update.
“We’re getting reports that our members are starting to run short of supplies again. Part of the problem has been the shortage of HGV drivers, but also that supplies are starting to run out again.
Talks ongoing for ‘market-based solution’
“At the moment we’re getting concerned that there hasn’t been a resolution reached. The knock-on effect is that we are now starting to run short of supplies of CO2 again, particularly in the pork sector.
“Obviously we’re concerned that this hasn’t been settled and we’re not getting any updates and we’re getting very close to the deadline,” they said.
A spokeswoman for the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said talks were ongoing to develop a “market-based” solution.
“The CO2 industry is continuing to hold discussions and remains committed to doing whatever it takes to move to a sustainable market-based solution by the end of the three-week period.”