Concern over the impact of high energy prices in Britain reached a new level on Friday when the country’s meat industry warned that supplies of chicken, beef and pork could be hit.
The British Meat Processors Association said that the recent shutdown of fertilizer plants in Britain and elsewhere in Europe because of soaring natural gas prices threatened to create shortages of carbon dioxide, which is widely used in the industrial food business.
A spokesman for the meat processors said that carbon dioxide is used to stun animals like pigs and chickens before they are slaughtered, under regulations intended to protect animal welfare. The gas is also injected into meat packaging to extend the shelf life in supermarkets.
The group said in a statement that once current stocks of carbon dioxide run out — it estimated there were less than 14 days left — some companies would need to “stop taking animals and close production lines.”
The association added that production problems in the pork industry could force farmers to cull their animals soon. Retailers of food and other products in Britain have been complaining for weeks that a shortage of truck drivers, caused by Brexit among other reasons, was crimping supplies.
The sudden worries about food supply illustrate how problems in one industry — in this case record-high natural gas prices — can quickly ripple across into others in a tightly interconnected economy like Britain’s. Analysts blame the high gas prices on surging demand from China and low storage levels in Europe with winter coming.
High gas prices have already caused electricity prices in Britain, Spain and elsewhere in Europe to soar, putting pressure on consumers and industry. A fire that caused a major outage in an electric cable running between Britain and France on Wednesday put further pressure on power prices.
Fertilizer makers use massive volumes of natural gas to make ammonia, producing quantities of carbon dioxide as a byproduct. The gas is captured and sold to food companies and other industries for, among other things, putting fizz in carbonated drinks.
The first indication that the flow of carbon dioxide could be crimped came Wednesday when U.S.-based fertilizer maker CF Industries said that it was responding to the recent jump in natural gas prices by shutting two large plants in northern England, at Ince and Billingham.
On Friday, Yara, a large Norwegian fertilizer maker, said it was also suspending production of about 40 percent of its European capacity.
“Record high natural gas prices in Europe are impacting ammonia production margins,” Yara said in a statement.
According to the meat processors association, those factory closures involved plants that Britain could have turned to for emergency supplies.
The group said that the carbon dioxide market was not regulated, and so there was little information about how much of the gas was available. It called on the British government to intercede “to prevent this happening again.”
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