CO2 shortage: Pubs promise not to spoil the party5 min read

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Pubs insist there will be no beer shortage on Thursday despite England’s World Cup game and good weather expected to create a huge demand.

A CO2 gas scarcity had seen pubs warn some beer, cider and fizzy drink brands were out of stock or running low.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said brewers were “working their socks off” to keep the beer flowing.

But the meat industry, which also uses vast amounts of CO2, said “huge problems” remained.

What is the problem?

CO2 is widely used in the food processing and drinks industries. It puts the fizz into beer, cider and soft drinks, and is used in food packaging to extend the shelf life of salads, fresh meat and poultry.

The gas is also used to stun pigs and chickens before slaughter, and create dry ice to help keep things chilled while in transit.

However, several UK and mainland European producers of carbon dioxide – a by-product from ammonia production that is used in the fertiliser industry – closed for maintenance or scaled down operations.

In the UK, only two of five plants that supply CO2 are operating at the moment.

The shortage comes at the same time demand for food and drink is soaring. “The football, the weather, the BBQs have created the sort of demand for beer we only see at Christmas,” one big UK brewing company told the BBC.

What are the pubs saying?

BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “Although stocks of bulk CO2 remain low, brewers across the country are working their socks off around the clock to ensure there is still plenty of beer to go around.

“The UK can produce as much as 10 million pints of beer per day, and with signs of things improving, pubs will certainly not be running dry.

“Our message to beer drinkers and England fans is clear: Keep calm and carry on going to the pub. If your usual beer of choice isn’t available, then why not use it as an opportunity to try something new?”

The assurances come after big pub chains in Wetherspoon and Ei Group reported they had temporarily run out or were short of brands including John Smith’s, Strongbow, Amstel and Birra Moretti.

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “We can assure our customers that all of our pubs will have a great choice of drink available tonight, although a few drinks are likely to be unavailable due to the CO2 issue.”

Ei, the UK’s largest pub group, said: “We are aware of the issue relating to a shortage in the supply of CO2 and are working with our suppliers to minimise any disruption to our customers and our publicans.”

The meat industry sees no improvement

Scotland’s biggest abattoir closed this week until further notice, and meat processors are considering shortening “sell by” dates because packaging will contain lower levels of CO2.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors’ Association, told the BBC on Thursday that “huge problems” remained. “The last few days have alerted the country to how dependent we are on CO2.”

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He criticised CO2 producers for a lack of information about when carbon dioxide supplies might return to normal. “It makes planning difficult,” Mr Allen said.

The British Poultry Council said its members continued to live “day-to-day” as they tried to stretch out their dwindling supplies of the gas.

What does the government say?

The meat industry has become increasingly frustrated by a lack of information coming from CO2 firms and the UK government.

Richard Griffith, from the British Poultry Council, said attempts by his organisation and member firms to get information on when CO2 supplies might return to normal had failed. “They are not telling us, which means we can’t plan,” he said.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said it “is aware that there are reports of a CO2 shortage affecting the food and drink sector” and was monitoring the situation.

The Department of Business said the gas shortage was a commercial matter, but it was also monitoring developments.

However, one trade body said ministers should be on the “front foot” over what could develop into a major food issue. “If a small firm tries to get information from a big chemical company it’s no surprise that they won’t get a response.

“It should be the job of ministers to get the information we need and find out what’s going on,” the trade group said. “If there was a fresh water shortage, ministers would be onto the water companies. I really don’t see this as any different.”

When can the industry expect more supplies?

The industry trade journal Gas World, which first reported the news that CO2 was running short, said that two tankers full of liquid CO2 from mainland Europe have been delivered to ports in the UK in the past couple of days.

A number of European plants are beginning to increase supplies, while another factory that had closed because of technical issues rather than maintenance is due to come back online in mid-July.

However, as Gas World points out: “The main problem is that they are reliant on the owners of the chemical, bio-ethanol and ammonia plants to be operational in order to gain access to the raw CO2 gas. If these plants are not operating then there is simply no raw CO2 to purify and liquefy.”

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