Concerns were raised that the consultation used figures referring to UK peat extraction despite only proposing sanctions in England and anger erupted as only anecdotal evidence was provided to suggest that consumers would opt for peat-free goods.
NFU horticultural adviser Chris Hartfield said: "The Defra consultation is misleading - the rationale has to be clear because there are such huge financial implications for businesses in England."
International Peat Society scientific advisory board chairman Professor Jack Rieley accused Defra of using pseudo-science to back up its proposals. He said: "I'm not against reducing the use of peat but I do object to numbers being mixed up, confused and put in the wrong context to put a case for something that may not be sensible because it's dealing a lot with the economy."
Horticultural Development Company chairman Neil Bragg added: "The frustration for the industry is that it's not really recognised how big a step forward it has taken at its own expense to go forward, and this consultation has railroaded some of the very good work done by the industry."
Boningale Nurseries chairman Tim Edwards said: "The rationale is flawed if all we do is stop production here and carry it on overseas. And the voluntary approach that we have taken so far has added a cost to us. It's costing us every year in less cost-efficient production."
Ben Malin from the Somerset Peat Producers Association said the proposals needed to be "fit for purpose" and added that growing-media producers were concerned there will be a shortage of alternatives for the amateur sector. "The changes in the professional market can make it harder to reach the amateur targets," he said.
Responding to the concerns, Defra soils policy specialist Judith Stuart said: "We realise there are gaps in our evidence base and we are looking for more data."
Defra soils policy team leader Jenny McClelland added: "Please do tell us if you don't agree with any costings or any evidence, because the more information we have the better for us."
- See Grower, p29.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Responses to the consultation can be submitted to the Soils Policy Team, Defra, Area 3C, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline: 11 March.