Pork processor Tulip has revealed that it has sought derogation from Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) to allow pig meat from QMS-assured, Scottish pigs processed in alternative Tulip facilities in England to continue to carry the Specially Selected Pork logo. The plant has warned that it cannot take any more pigs from today (26 June).
A spokesman said: “Despite animal welfare being a high priority for deliveries (as confirmed by the Food Standards Agency last week), we have been unable to secure a delivery of CO2 from suppliers into the Brechin pig abattoir in Scotland, operated by Tulip Ltd in conjunction with Quality Pork Limited (QPL). We remain extremely concerned about the lack of CO2 deliveries into Scotland’s largest pig abattoir and are working closely with Scottish Government and other agencies to rectify the situation.”
Tulip added that it was “in regular communication with our supply partners to keep as up-to-date as possible, although there is currently very limited information in terms of causes and solutions to the plant shutdown impacting UK supply”.
NFU Scotland’s pigs and poultry, and animal health and welfare policy manager Penny Middleton said: “The shortage of CO2 is having a critical impact on the slaughter of pigs and poultry, where gas stunning is the preferred method of slaughter for welfare reasons.
“The processing plant at Brechin has already announced that it will not be able to take any more pigs from today (Tuesday 26 June), a decision that will impact heavily on pig units reliant on being able to get pigs away. Any disruption to that flow can result in welfare issues and overcrowding.
“Given the expectation of animal welfare problems on pig and poultry units NFUS feels that it is vital that CO2 supplies are reserved and directed to those plants in need.”
One source within the industry claimed that there has been no engagement from gas suppliers on this issue at all, citing a “lack of involvement”.
In response to the shortage, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has today (Tuesday 26 June) issued guidance on non-food safety CO2 being used in food production. Following research, it said: “We consider that the food safety risk from the use of ‘non-food safety’ CO2 to consumers is very low. Therefore, CO2 at not less than 99% purity can be used for the gas stunning of both poultry and pigs throughout the duration of the disruption to the normal food grade CO2 gas supplies in the UK.”
“We [also] consider that until normal supplies have resumed, CO2 with a purity of not less than 99% may be used in modified atmosphere packed products. However, food business operators (FBOs) need to exercise due diligence and verify the gas specification with their suppliers to ensure that the product matches or exceeds the required specification.”
According to British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths, the poultry industry is managing to compensate for the lack of supply, with many processors, including 2 Sisters, using electrical stunning to maintain production lines. A 2 Sisters Food Group spokesperson said its “schedules were being met”.
Griffiths said that this process was slower than C02 and required more manual labour, therefore throughput was affected. “It’s a less efficient process than C02 so it’s not sustainable as a long-term solution. The technology was overtaken by C02 for these reasons.”
He said that that next Monday would be key for processors. “The industry is maintaining supply at the moment, but come next Monday, some sites will have to make some decisions about production. The problems will begin to multiply and lead to disruptions to food supply if C02 supplies are not restored. Monday will be crunch time for the industry if supplies are not back to normal.”
Griffiths praised the FSA and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for their reaction to the situation. “We’re still in the middle of it but it has been a good example of an industry working together to make contingency plans.”