Good policy-making means correcting unfortunate mistakes. For this reason, it is wonderful to see the European Parliament address burdensome essential oils rules. In today’s plenary vote, Members of Parliament approved amendment 32, designed to adjust Classification, Labelling, and Packaging (CLP) regulations. Instead of grouping essential oils under the ambiguous label of mixtures containing more than one substance, any natural water or steam emulsions will now be more accurately described as substances of natural botanic origin, separate from already extant rules (EU) No 1107/2009 and (EU) No 528/2012 for organic insecticides.
The proposal significantly improves the European Union Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) ruling. The initial plan was based on a hazard mentality, which allowed for no amount of risk so long as a single part of a substance may be troublesome in a hypothetical laboratory setting. It further equated essential oils with hazardous artificial compounds when all the available evidence suggests they are natural and perfectly safe. As a result, the ECHA would most likely have curtailed essential oils from being bought or sold via EU regulation 2021/1902.
The original regulations would have only added fuel to the fire consumers face. The EU-wide inflation rate remains high at 4.3%, a figure well above the European Central Bank’s price stability target of 2%. Higher prices translate into a general price rise, making it harder for ordinary Europeans to make ends meet. Thanks to the extra regulations, the few available products would have become more expensive due to the added compliance costs, piling further momentum to price rises. In the worst-case scenario, ordinary buyers could have been deprived of some of their favorite perfumes, shampoos, and make-up kits (which contain at least nine hundred and ninety-two substances derived from rose, chamomile, lemon, tree bark, or other natural components).
The amendment will prevent either scenario– essential oils never have to be withdrawn from the market because of unfounded safety concerns or comply with additional labeling rules and regulations. Consumers are left to enjoy the same items at affordable prices.
Producers in European member states also have reasons to celebrate the certainty the amendment brings to their businesses. France could have lost its position as the second-biggest supplier of lavender and the third-biggest exporter of the plant, and 458 million euros in exports. Bulgaria’s Kazanlak Valley is famous worldwide for its rose oil. It alone yielded two tonnes of essential oils, then exported for 92 million euros annually. Bulgarian workers and companies who were reasonably concerned about the implications of the ECHA’s actions can now breathe a collective sigh of relief. So, too, can the 4500 families in Italy’s Reggio Calabria responsible for harvesting 95% of all bergamot around the world. Italy’s 174 million euros in exports are safe and secure.
Smaller players in the market were even more vulnerable to change. Lithuanian cosmetics companies could see their mint, chamomile, juniper, and spruce overseas exchange disappear, losing 379.9 million euros. Minor yet entrepreneurial enterprises like the Tedre Farm in Estonia, originators of a more efficient carbon monoxide extraction method for raspberry oil, may have been rendered insolvent under the ECHA’s plans. With amendment 32, they and others can make their mark in the broader market unperturbed.
However, policymakers should go further and urge the ECHA to change its mentality towards regulation altogether. Currently, the ECHA operates based on a hazard-based, “better safe than sorry” approach, which has led it to oppose essential oils needlessly. Instead, regulators should practice the risk-based method, assuming realistic intended use levels. In doing so, they should incorporate the empirical evidence that shows essential oils to be harmless to humans and the environment into regulatory decision-making. This way, they will avoid making any future mistakes.
Produced in association with Brussels Report
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