UK CO2 shortage to thin UK supplies

A recent report from the BBC illustrates that a recent shortage of CO2 may lead to a reduction in the UK’s food supplies. This shortage of CO2 is attributed to the UK’s gas supply shortage which has occurred due to a lack of available substitutes such as Wind power, as well as other factors such as a reduction in the amount of gas produced in the British North sea areas as COVID-19 restrictions are inhibiting output. The significance of this is that natural gas is a key component in producing fertiliser, consequently, fertiliser producers such as CF industries have seen their operating costs rise as the price of wholesale gas has risen by 250%

This rise in the price of natural gas, therefore, inhibits the amount of factor inputs firms such as CF industries have access to, thus yielding a reduction in the amount of fertiliser they can produce as their operating budgets are limited.

And, CO2, is a byproduct of the production of fertiliser, thus meaning that when fertiliser output is reduced, the amount of CO2 smoke which is then captured, extracted, and purified, is also lower. Overall, due to the gas shortage, CF industries has seen two of its main plants on Teesside and Cheshire cease production, and, because these factories have stopped working, there has been a cut of 60% of the UK’s carbon dioxide supply, the BBC reports.

Yet how does this all link into food? Well CO2 is used in many food products, ranging from carbonated drinks to growing plants and veg, the gas is even used in the slaughtering of animals for meat and packaging foods as CO2 extends shelf life. CO2 is also used in transport as it can form dry ice. Consequently, an overall reduction in the supply of CO2 will make this gas much scarcer for companies that package, grow food, or slaughter animals. This means that the gas price rise will have a knock-on effect on the price of CO2 as once the supply of this gas decreases, the price will rise.

Therefore, firms that operate in these food-related industries will too see a rise in their operating costs, and, because these firms have a limited operating budget, they will be forced to supply fewer goods and services such as fresh food. Because of this, the UK may potentially be seeing a massive issue regarding food shortages, which, once occur, will lead to the price of food rising.

This is significant as those on fixed incomes, such as those on Job Seekers Allowance, or, state pensioners, who have recently had their triple-lock suspended, will see a reduction in their buying power.

Consequently, these individuals, who are already on fixed incomes, may be forced to decrease their standards of living by switching to inferior goods, or, may have to cut back on specific foods altogether, thus increasing the rate of food poverty within the UK. Food poverty is also already a massive issue as the UK’s biggest foodbank Trussell Trust has sent out a record amount of 2.5 million food parcels last year alone. Consequently, rising food poverty rates will exacerbate this issue as more individuals will be forced to rely on charitable organisations to get by in their day to day lives.

At the same time, this CO2 shortage also extends to another sector, that sector being healthcare. Carbon Dioxide gas is used within hospitals for medical uses during invasive surgeries to stabilise patients body cavities, as well as to stimulate breathing and to get rid of warts and moles.

This means that a shortage of CO2 will place increasing pressure on an already stretched NHS as shortages of this gas means that there may be further delays for certain treatments.

This is already a significant issue as the NHS currently has a waiting list of over 5 million patients. Consequently, a shortage of this gas may make this problem even worse meaning a decision with a heavy opportunity cost must be made, a decision between supplying food, or potentially saving lives.


Written by Hubert Kucharski

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