CO2 shortage another threat for food processors

Compressed carbon dioxide is a little-known but critical component in the slaughter and food processing industries


On top of shutdowns and slowdowns, meat packers and food processors face a crisis from a source few farmers have ever thought about before: compressed carbon dioxide.

It’s a critical component in the slaughter and food processing industries, both for processing and refrigeration, but the collapse of oil and ethanol production has created a collapse in carbon dioxide supplies.

A coalition of United States meat and food industries is calling for government intervention to keep carbon dioxide manufacturing from slumping too far.

“We believe temporary, emergency federal assistance is necessary to prevent shortages of carbon dioxide,” said the coalition in an April 7 letter to U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence.

“If federal action is not swift, a slowdown in food and beverage manufacturing due to a shortage in carbon dioxide will ultimately lead to shortages of needed goods.”Compressed carbon dioxide is produced in a number of industries and through various processes as a byproduct.

It arises in ethanol production, fertilizer manufacturing, hydrogen refining and from wells. With slumps in energy production, the source of much of North America’s carbon dioxide has also slumped.

More than 30 of the 45 U.S. ethanol plants that sell CO2 have closed in the current crisis.

Packing plants use much CO2. So do food processors. Brewers are worried that they won’t be able to make beer. Soft drink production is imperilled.

“Many industrial manufacturers have already idled their plants…. Certain industrial gas companies have been forced to ration available CO2 products,” said the coalition in the letter.

“Without stable sources of CO2 across the nation, these food and beverage manufacturers will be unable to operate at capacity, leading to shortages for Americans of the important goods they depend on, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The coalition includes the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Institute, the National Turkey Federation, the Renewable Fuels Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Brewers Association, the Beer Institute and the Compressed Gas Association.

Pence has been assigned by U.S. President Donald Trump to lead his government’s response to COVID-19.

At the time of writing the letter, about 20 percent of U.S. CO2 production had been suspended, but that has been crawling toward the 50 percent decline, the coalition feared.

The coalition asks the U.S. government to provide incentives to manufacturers to keep producing CO2.

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