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CO2 shortage could force farmers to cull own pigs

Soaring global gas prices have initiated a crisis in the UK pig sector as a shortage of CO2 used to stun pigs before slaughter could force farmers to cull their own healthy stock and dispose of them, instead of sending the animals to the food chain.

The main problem is that the spiralling gas prices, caused by a spike in demand from Asia, have forced some major fertiliser factories that produce the CO2 as a by-product to close down.

The US-based company, CF Industries, that produces about 60% of the UK’s food grade CO2, has suspended production at 2 UK fertiliser plants. Meanwhile, Norwegian company Yara has also cut its production at a number of its factories across Europe.

The UK is facing a CO2 shortage at the moment, impacting pig slaughterings. - Photo: Shutterstock
The UK is facing a CO2 shortage at the moment, impacting pig slaughterings. - Photo: Shutterstock

Pig slaughterhouses struggling to source CO2

That has had an ongoing effect on the pig slaughterhouses, which are now struggling to source supplies of CO2 and have had to reduce slaughter capacities. This latest issue comes at a time when the sector is already struggling due to a lack of labour. In the UK alone, there are now over 100,000 pigs backed up on farms that will need to be culled if they cannot be slaughtered in the abattoirs.

The UK’s National Pig Association (NPA) has said that if CO2 supplies do not increase soon, there could be mass culls on farms.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “If this CO2 shortage is not resolved very quickly, we will be a couple of weeks away from being forced to cull perfectly healthy pigs on farms and throw the carcasses in the bin.

“Not only is this hugely distressing for the farmers who have cared for these animals and reared them, it is also completely wasteful and completely financially ruinous for those individuals,” she said.

Action to prevent mass culling of pigs

The NPA and other sector bodies have called on the UK government to act quickly and resolve the CO2 issue before there are any mass culls not witnessed in the UK since the Foot-and-Mouth Disease crisis 20 years ago.

UK pork producer Cranswick’s CEO Adam Couch said: “I call upon the government to act immediately to avert a major crisis in the food industry. The sector has been asking for support to ease the labour crisis, and now CO2 shortages could effectively bring production to a halt throughout the supply chain.

“The industry is already at tipping point ahead of the demanding Christmas period. We have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep food on the shelves, but there is a real risk of product shortages across the country if the government does not act immediately to address these issues,” he said.