TAXPAYERS will pay towards the operating costs of a major US-owned fertiliser manufacturer to ensure the supply of CO2 for the food sector continues amid the ongoing energy crisis – but a plant on the outskirts of Ellesmere Port will remain closed for now.

It has been confirmed that a deal brokered by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng will see the UK Government provide “limited financial support” towards CF Fertilisers’ running costs in order to prevent a food supply shortage at Britain’s supermarkets.

The agreement will be in place for three weeks while the “CO2 market adapts” to the surge in global gas prices, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis).

But while that will see CF Fertilisers' Teesside plant reopened for three weeks, the firm's other UK site in Ince will remain shut at this time. Both plants shut on Wednesday, September 15 due to high natural gas prices.

It is hoped the rising price of CO2 will allow production to restart soon, as CF Fertilisers produces around 60 per cent of UK’s supplied CO2, used primarily by the food sector but also in the health and nuclear industries

Previously, Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders had spoken of his concern for workers at that plant, in a debate on the UK gas supply industry in the House of Commons on Monday.

He told Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: "CF Fertilisers, based in my constituency, is one of the plants that has had to close down in the light of cost pressures.

"There are obviously many impacts on consumers as a result of this decision, but the employment prospects of my constituents are at the forefront of my mind at the moment.

"I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State met the company yesterday (Sunday). I wrote to the Department over a month ago pointing out the need for urgent action on the cost pressures the company was facing, not just in terms of global gas prices but a number of other factors. I hope that discussions prove fruitful, and not just for my constituents’ jobs.

"We do not want to get into a situation where we are relying on importing carbon dioxide from other sources, because that will not help us to reach net zero and will put us risk of other fluctuations in world prices."

Mr Kwarteng thanked Mr Madders for his "passionate support for employment in his constituency".

He said he had spoken to Mr Madders 'considerably' over the last few months about Stellantis, owner of the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port.

And he added: "I am very focused on the two CFF plants, one of which is very near or in his constituency. The other, of course, is in Billingham on Teesside.

"We are looking at both sites and trying to do what we can to support ongoing production in both those places."

Since that debate, the Government has stepped in to restart carbon dioxide production which will take effect at the Teesside plant.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News: “Lawyers are still working on those final details.

“It’s going to be into many millions, possibly the tens of millions, but it is to underpin some of those fixed costs.”

He added: “It’s going to be temporary…at the end of the day we need the market to adjust.

“The food industry know that there is going to be a sharp rise in the cost of carbon dioxide, probably going from something like £200 a tonne eventually up to closer to £1,000 a tonne, so a big, sharp rise.”

He added the Government had to act to subsidise CF Fertilisers in order to protect food supplies.

Carbon dioxide is used in the stunning of animals prior to slaughter and in packaging to preserve foods.

He said: “The truth is if we did not act then, by this weekend, or certainly by the early part of next week, some of the poultry processing plants would need to close and then we would have animal welfare issues – because you would have lots of chickens on farms that couldn’t be slaughtered on time and would have to be euthanised on farms, we would have a similar situation with pigs.

“There would have been a real animal welfare challenge here and a big disruption to the food supply chain, so we felt we needed to act.”

There had been fears that without action, the UK could face shortages on supermarket shelves.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, had warned that shoppers may notice products missing “in about 10 days” if a solution was not found.

CO2 is injected into the packaging of perishable foods such as meat and salads to inhibit the growth of bacteria, typically prolonging the shelf life of products such as beef steak by around five days.

The gas is also used to stun animals prior to slaughter, and is deployed as a coolant for medicines and vaccines in the NHS, and likewise in nuclear programmes.