Government warned over empty supermarket shelves amid new CO2 crisis

Empty shelves at a Co-op supermarket in Battersea, south London. Picture date: Monday September 13, 2021.
CF Industries fertiliser plant has suspended production as a result of rising wholesale gas prices. (PA)

Supermarket shelves could go empty this winter due to a new CO2 shortage, the government has been warned.

On Wednesday one of the UK's largest fertiliser plants, CF Fertilisers, announced it intends to halt ammonia production at its Billingham plant - which will also cause CO2 production to stop.

CF Fertilisers, who supply 42% of the UK’s CO2, say they are making the move due to the "uneconomical" rising price of energy.

It comes as Ofgem confirmed the household energy price cap will soar to £3,549 from October.

The pause to CO2 production could pose a significant risk to supply chains, as it plays a key role in keeping food fresh and in the humane slaughter of animals

Read more: This is how much it will cost to use your household appliances under the new energy price cap

In autumn last year, the government subsidised the manufacturer at a 10 million cost to restart carbon dioxide production after it was suspended due to high energy costs.

As a result, supermarkets began to experience some shortages in certain items - with farmers warning animals like pigs may have to be culled if slaughterhouses were unable to process animals.

And companies that produce beer or soft-drinks reported they were struggling to secure the CO2 to make their drinks fizzy.

However, according to The Times, the government are ruling out a repeat performance and it is not said to be on the "agenda".

Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, in a letter to the government on Friday said the suspension of production could lead to empty shelves.

Ofgem confirmed the increase to the energy price cap (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)
Ofgem confirmed the increase to the energy price cap (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)

"The closure of the Teeside plant points to the government having lost complete control of the situation, and leaves families vulnerable to further Tory inflicted financial pressures on top of the existing crises that are being felt in every corner of our country," said Zeichner.

"CO2 shortages risk driving up food prices even further and leaving even larger gaps on supermarket shelves."

Responding to the closure, a government spokesperson said: “We are aware that CF Fertilisers has taken the decision to temporarily halt ammonia production at Billingham.

“Since last autumn, the CO2 market’s resilience has improved, with additional imports, further production from existing domestic sources and better stockpiles.

Read more: Energy bills set to rise 35 times faster than wages by the end of the year

“While the Government continues to examine options for the market to improve resilience over the longer term, it is essential industry acts in the interests of the public and business to do everything it can to meet demand.”

However, on Friday the environment, the food and rural affairs (EFRA) committee wrote to the government expressing concerns about CF Fertilisers's decision to stop ammonia production.

“Recent reports that CF Fertiliser will the halting production of ammonia are worrying, given the knock-on impacts this decision will have on CO2 production in the UK," said Tory MP and EFRA committee chair, Robert Goodwill.

"Any disruption to CO2 supply could have serious effects on food production, national food security, and animal welfare.”