How is the CO2 shortage affecting animal welfare at East Anglia’s slaughterhouses?

Lamberts Abattoir in Eye.; Owners Chris and Kevin Burrows

Lamberts Abattoir in Eye.; Owners Chris and Kevin Burrows - Credit: Archant

Slaughterhouse director makes a plea to gas suppliers to put them first in line for CO2, so animal welfare is not compromised.

Lamberts Abattoir in Eye.
Owner Kevin Burrows in the new abattoir
. Picture: Tudor Morgan-Owen

Lamberts Abattoir in Eye. Owner Kevin Burrows in the new abattoir . Picture: Tudor Morgan-Owen

The managing director of one of the biggest slaughterhouses in East Anglia has made a plea to CO2 suppliers to put them “first on the list” to get the gas, so that animal welfare is not compromised.

The Europe-wide shortage of carbon dioxide, which has been largely caused by shutdowns for maintenance at plants which produce food grade CO2, is affecting the supply chain of products such as carbonated drinks, beer and vacuum-packed food, as well as meat.

Kevin Burrows, the managing director of C&K Meats, which operates the J H Lambert abattoir on Eye Airfield, said it seemed as if “the whole world” was short of CO2 at the moment. “We can all live without a pint of beer or a can of fizzy drink, but for industries like ourselves, when animal welfare issues come up, we need to come first on the list when it comes to getting CO2 – after the police, the army and the NHS.”

Mr Burrows said that for any animals not deemed to be ‘high welfare’, the company has had to revert to its back-up system, which is the electric stun method. It normally uses CO2 to assist in the slaughter of the animals.

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“Although we have been testing the electric stun equipment monthly to make sure it’s working properly, as a full slaughter, we hadn’t used the system since 2010 when we first moved to our present facility,” he said. “We are fortunate that we heard about this CO2 shortage early as this enabled us to plan ahead and keep gas by for our high welfare peaks.”

C&K Meats supplies lamb and beef as well as pork, but it is the pigs that are being affected, Mr Burrows said.

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Up to 5,000 pigs are slaughtered at the 40,000 sq ft factory each week. Animal welfare is a high priority for C&K Meats, which in 2016 was presented with the welfare award for outstanding work for animal welfare in lairage before slaughter by the British Quality Pigs (BQP).

“We need to mitigate animal welfare issues because we don’t carry a lot of space,” Mr Burrows said. “Mixing the pigs together is not good for animal welfare. We say [to the suppliers] ‘please give us CO2 to keep the cycle of pigs moving.’”

Britain has just experienced one of the hottest Junes on record, and Mr Burrows admits that the heat is also “not good” for the animals. “We need the stock movement to carry on,” he added.

Dwindling stocks of carbon dioxide are being blamed for the suspension of output at other abattoirs in the UK, including Brechin Slaughterhouse in Angus, which is operated by Quality Pork.

Mr Burrows said: “Its desperately sad for those who have had to stop farming because of the CO2 shortage. This issue is putting farmers and slaughterhouses under so much pressure.”

But those abattoirs who only use the electric stun method of slaughter, such as HG Blake in Norwich, are not being adversely affected by the CO2 shortage.

“But we don’t want to see other companies in trouble,” a spokesman for HG Blake said. “Other abattoirs who use CO2 will start struggling soon, and we are prepared to help out those who need us. We’re predicting that we will be much busier, depending on how long the shortage carries on for.”

Mr Burrows said he has heard that the CO2 supply should be back to normal by the end of July. “Originally, I was told mid-July, but because there’s such a backlog of orders, its been put back later,” he said.

The drinks industry has said that while it expects there to be plenty of beer, lager and cider to go around during the World Cup, there could be availability problems surrounding popular brands at a local level if the gas shortage lasts much longer.

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