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EU allergy laws target French lavender farmers

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EU allergy laws target French lavender farmers
A lavender farm in the south of France. French lavender farmers are up in arms over 'extreme' EU regulations. Photo: VincentAF/Flickr
12:22 CEST+02:00
EU attempts to tighten up regulations on chemicals have French lavender farmers and essential oil distillers angry at what they call over-zealous rules that threaten to rein in an industry considered iconic for southern France.

European Commission attempts to combat allergies in the EU have French lavender farmers and essential oil makers getting their noses out of joint.

Scent-makers in the town of Grasse were the first to raise the alarm about impending EU regulations, according to regional daily Le Dauphiné Libéré. 

At the heart of the battle lies a new set of rules within the Reach directive.

In place since 2007, Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances) places greater demands on producers to study and compile information about the contents of their products. 

While distillation of plants such as lavender has been exempt from Reach if the distillation involves only water, Le Dauphiné Libéré now reports that distillers of lavender oil must scale back their use of geraniol, a naturally occurring rose-scented alcohol component of lavender. 

"Most probably there will be some changes... on cosmetic products, with entry in operation possibly in July 2013 which will affect lavender producers," the Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which handles all EU questions pertaining to Reach, told The Local.  

The change of tune from the EU, does not, however, sound like sweet music to the ears of lavender farmers. 

"Those egg heads in Brussels think essential oils are an industrial product," lavender grower Francis Vidal told La Dauphiné . 

"No transformation takes place in the distillery, where steam is used, nothing else." 

The exhaustive lists of potential allergens meant to protect European consumers held little allure among the lavender farmers.

"The rule-book classifies 140 components of essential oils as allergens, it's crazy," Vidal summarized.

Reach notably places demands on companies to find out the exact contents of their products, and to advertize them clearly. Essential oil distillery Bontoux, which employs around 65 people in the town Saint-Auban sur l’Ouvèze, said Reach was not adaptable to their area of expertise.

"Putting the names of the chemicals on the box doesn't mean much," said research head Claire Delbecque.

"What matters are how the chemicals are mixed with each other and the dosage," she added, saying that the company had already detailed the contents of their products.

Nonetheless, the demands of Reach have cost the company several hundred thousand euro.

"Protecting the safety of the consumer is the right thing to do, it's commendable, but we've reached an extreme that has gone beyond all logic," Delbecque told La Dauphiné.  

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