As much as half the pork and chicken production in the UK could be cut as slaughterhouses lose access to a key chemical input because of fertilizer plant closures, a Gro analysis shows.
Such a shortfall would likely drive protein prices higher and could result in a tripling of UK pork and chicken imports to meet current demand to keep food retailer shelves stocked and restaurants supplied. The UK currently imports most of its meat from Europe, especially the Netherlands and Denmark.
Some UK fertilizer plants have ceased operating due to a spike in natural gas prices. The plants supply slaughterhouses with most of the food-grade CO2 that they use during the pre-slaughter stunning of hogs and chickens, a step required by European regulation. Beef cattle are instead stunned by percussion to the head or by electric shock.
Roughly two-thirds of the CO2 that UK food and beverage producers require could be lost due to Europe’s idle fertilizer plants, according to food industry estimates. If all the food-grade CO2 losses fell on slaughterhouses, it would halve the UK’s pork and chicken production, equating to a weekly production shortfall of 10,000 tonnes of pork and nearly 20,000 tonnes of chicken.
Even a one-week delay of slaughter in chickens’ time-sensitive production schedule could be problematic. Chickens gain roughly a pound in weight per week, and a delay of that length would put them at nearly 20% over the current 5.3-lb bird weights, making them overdue and oversized. Problems with slaughter apparatuses, because they are designed for smaller chickens, could further delay meat production, if packers fall behind schedule significantly.
The shutdown of some UK fertilizer plants comes despite a recent strong rally in world fertilizer prices. High fertilizer prices in the US could push US farmers to plant fewer acres in corn next year, as Gro explains in this Insight article. Meanwhile, China, the world’s largest exporter of phosphate, a key fertilizer component, has banned exports of the chemical to assure supplies in the domestic market.
Behind the fertilizer price gains are rising natural gas prices. In Europe, last year’s unusually cold winter and a recent, lower-than-usual availability of wind energy have caused natural gas prices to more than double this year.
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