As people in the United States wind down from celebrating Independence Day — often with beer and meat – people in the United Kingdom may soon face a beer and meat shortage, due to a scarcity of carbon dioxide across the U.K. The New York Times outlined the situation in “U.K. Fears for Its Beer and Crumpets. Blame a Carbon Dioxide Shortage.”
The gas has a variety of sources, including as a byproduct of ammonia fertilizer, the newspaper reports. “Several plants in Britain and elsewhere in Europe that produce fertilizer have had to shut down for maintenance, a renovation period that coincides with the region’s warmest months,” Amie Tsang writes. “Technical difficulties at other plants have squeezed supplies further.”
Carbon dioxide is used to give beer, soda, champagne and other drinks their fizziness. Companies that sell food-grade carbon dioxide buy it from ammonia plants, then clean and purify it. CNN Money reports there is only one ammonia fertilizer plant in the U.K. operating normally.
Starting in June, the flow of carbon dioxide across Europe slowed considerably, and the U.K. has been hardest hit by the shortage. Companies have already started to ration their goods. For example, Booker, a U.K. wholesaler owned by Tesco, is limiting its customers to 10 cases of beer per brand each day.
This rationing likely impacted sales as customers headed to their local pubs to watch England knock out Columbia in Tuesday’s World Cup game. It might also affect sales Saturday, when England faces Sweden in another World Cup match.
Carbon dioxide also is used to stun animals before they are slaughtered. Already the British Poultry Council announced that some of its members are reserving their gas stockpiles to ensure chickens are killed humanely. “Those supplies might not last more than a few days, however, at which point slaughtering might have to stop,” Tsang writes. Carbon dioxide is used in meat packaging as well, to slow microbe growth and preserve the meat’s color and freshness.
Pub goers aren’t the only ones who might miss out during the U.K. carbon dioxide shortage. Teatime could also lose some of its appeal because manufacturers of crumpets, which are small, unsweetened griddle cakes, use carbon dioxide in packaging to maintain freshness. The New York Times reports one British bakery is making only half of what it normally produces.
The publication Live Science interviewed American Chemical Society member Richard Sachleben, who explained why capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere wouldn’t be a practical solution to the shortage. “Even with the rising levels of atmospheric [carbon dioxide] due to climate change, [carbon dioxide] in the air is still only about 400 parts per million, and is mixed with nitrogen, oxygen and other elements. It would therefore be quite a costly and time-consuming challenge to extract and refine purified [carbon dioxide] from the air — at least in the amounts that are typically collected from industrial processes.”
Preparing for supply chain risk
As the U.K. and its consumers deal with the disruption caused by the carbon dioxide shortage, it should prompt many in the supply chain profession to think about the resources vital to their products’ supply chains. Consider the definition of “supply chain resilience” as it appears in the APICS Dictionary: “The ability of a supply chain to anticipate, create plans to avoid or mitigate and/or to recover from disruptions to supply chain functionality.”
APICS 2018, September 30-October 2 in Chicago, features a variety of content that can help you create supply chain resilience in your organization. For example, “Navigating the Unpredictable: Brexit, Hurricanes and Tariffs … Oh My!” promises to provide strategies for overcoming unexpected circumstances. Register for APICS 2018 before the end of July, and you will save up to $400.