European Commission president Antonio Tajani has delivered a blow to campaigners against peat use by formally admitting that legally enforcing the proposed peat ban in England is incompatible with EU law.
Tajani, in response to a question from Glendoick Garden Centre director Ken Cox sent by Cox's local MSP Ian Hudghton, said a ban could block EU trade.
"In general, the commission supports national measures aiming at environmental protection," he said. "However, measures restricting the use of a given product could constitute an obstacle to intra-EU trade.
"Directive 98/34/EC2 establishes a control mechanism by which member states planning to adopt technical regulations are obliged to notify the commission at the draft stage, which informs other member states and stakeholders. So far the Commission has not received formal notification of any such proposal from the UK authorities."
A Defra representative said the Government was a long way off introducing a ban, admitting it would be difficult to enforce.
"We have introduced a voluntary phase out of peat use in all markets in England. But if the targets are not being met we may consider other forms of intervention. This will be looked at in more detail by the peat task force," she added.
Cox said: "It looks as though a peat ban is illegal at the moment at least."
Meanwhile, the International Peat Society has launched a Strategy for Responsible Peatland Management.
This defines for the first time objectives and actions for the conservation, management and rehabilitation of mires and peatlands globally, based on the principles of "wise use".
For further details, see www.peatsociety.org/node/4097.
Industry views on prospects for enforcing a ban on peat use in England
- Bernard Burns, chief executive, William Sinclair
"This does not mean that a peat ban is illegal, although I believe a tax will be more effective. That will only be evident when the task force concludes that it cannot find a way or the commission refuses to allow the method proposed. The fat lady hasn't even warmed up on this one yet."
- Chris Durston, sales director, Durston Garden Products
"As I understand it, any ban is unlikely to be statutory because that would be unenforceable under EU law. At present, the evidence of sales in the retail market indicates that the majority of the public still favour peat-based products both because of their effectiveness and consistency."
"Defra keeps suggesting that it hasn't suggested regulations of peat but its white paper is clear and has dates in it. That is regulation, not voluntary. I don't understand why Defra keeps taking this position"