The government will pay tens of millions to restart a plant’s CO2 production after experts warned of food shortages within days.
Britain’s commercial CO2 supplies more than halved last week after soaring gas prices prompted US-owned CF Industries to shut their two sites.
Ministers will meet the full operating costs of the Teesside plant for three weeks, “whilst the CO2 market adapts to global prices”.
However, it will need up to three days to start production, and the other site in Cheshire will remain closed.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the “exceptional short-term arrangement” would mean industries that rely on CO2 “have the resources they require to avoid disruption”.
The gas is used for stunning animals before slaughter and packing meat.
Supermarkets and food producers had claimed that shortages would lead to gaps on shelves and overcrowded farms.
British Retail Consortium food director Andrew Opie welcomed the decision but said the production timetable “will still be tight”.
He told the Radio 4’s Today programme: “Provided that carbon dioxide starts to get through to food producers by the end of the week, then we can avert major and significant disruption in our stores.”
Food and Drink Federation boss Ian Wright said on Tuesday that there would be roughly 10 days before poultry and pork started disappearing from shops.
If plants returned to full production this week, he added, “shoppers wouldn’t notice much, though there will be some gaps on shelves”.