Minister notes grower peat risk

Government acknowledges risk to vegetable growers over peat withdrawal in Commons hearing.

Government minister with responsibility for peat Richard Benyon has acknowledged the risk to UK growers from the withdrawing of peat, which could "drive them overseas".

Referring to vegetable growers in particular, Benyon used food security issues to defend the Government's handling of peat-reduction measures in the face of criticism from Labour MP Barry Gardiner, who wants to see a faster withdrawal.

Gardiner told a select committee hearing last week: "The fact we are allowed to go on using peat until 2030 before we reach the target - and it's only a target - for phasing out peat has been heavily criticised by wildlife groups."

Addressing an environment, food and rural affairs committee hearing on the natural environment white paper, he added: "Peat sequesters carbon. Do you not think 2030 is the most extraordinary ambition and too light a regulatory touch?"

Benyon countered: "We've also been criticised for that being too soon and 2030 is just one element. It's 2015 for the public sector and 2020 for amateur gardeners. Professional growers want clear direction from Government."

He explained that businesses were very fast responders to challenges to use alternative media and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs peat task force chair Alan Knight was going to report "very soon with suggestions on how to make this happen".

Benyon told the committee that he had visited a vegetable grower on the Sussex coast and seen huge advances on reducing peat and using hydroponics. These kinds of advances were being supported by Government research, he insisted.

"We have to keep in mind food security," he said. "Companies that use peat are producing vegetables in a highly-competitive market and we don't want to drive them overseas.

"Our approach is much more ambitious than other countries, some not that far away."

On advances in the reuse and recycling of peat, Benyon pointed out that technology was moving very rapidly and realistic timetables would have to be set.

Key Stat

The deadline set by the Government for phasing out the use of peat by professionals - 2030.

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