Promoted by Consumer Choice Center
Under its strict “better safe than sorry” hazard approach, the ECHA intended to modify existing Classification, Labelling, and Packaging (CLP) rules and group essential oils under the nebulous category of mixtures containing more than one substance. The original plan meant essential oils were wrongly considered on par with dangerous artificial substances and became open to potential market restrictions under EU regulation 2021/1902.
Introduced on the 21st of September as a correction to the CLP, Parliament’s amendment 32 now rightfully recognizes these water or steam-based extracts as organic and safe. The proposal creates a new rubric of multi-constituent substances of natural botanical origin not covered by existing rules (EU) No 1107/2009 and (EU) No 528/2012 for organic insecticides.
Consumers and producers have every reason to support this potential return to regulatory and economic common sense. Emulsions like rose or lemon oil are vital ingredients for bio-make-up kits, shampoos, deodorants, and other cosmetics. The 2.29 billion euro European clean beauty industry could not exist without them. Provision 32 reassures suppliers that their items will not be spontaneously removed from shelves just because one particle out of a hundred could prove dangerous in a hypothetical laboratory setting. It also guarantees that no frightening labels or warnings will be present on the packaging, which would have needlessly scared many consumers away.
Most importantly, it means companies do not have to incur extra costs when inflation is already driving prices up across the board. It is worth remembering that EU-wide inflation rates remain stubbornly high at 5.9% (jumping in Hungary to a whopping 14.2%). Now was not the time for a thicket of unexpected chemical regulations to make things even harder. Thanks to the Parliament’s intervention, consumers can still find their favorite items in stores at the usual prices.
EU member states should feel even more encouraged by the amendment. Bulgaria is the world’s number one rose oil producer, harvesting almost two tonnes of emulsions annually for exports worth 92 million euros. Bulgarian producers were understandably worried the ECHA might wipe their business out. Approximately 4500 family-owned small companies in Reggio Calabria generate 95% of global bergamot production.
The ECHA’s initial decision left their future uncertain, and Italy could have lost 174 million euros in exports. France’s renowned lavender business and 458 million euros were on the line. Estonia’s Tedre Farm, inventor of a novel carbon monoxide method for emulsifying raspberries, would have squandered the fruits of its innovation. Bulgaria, Italy, France, Estonia, and other member states can now rest assured that EU regulations do not unfairly disadvantage them.
There is still work to be done, of course. The proposal has only been tabled and is pending formal adoption in a Parliament plenary. For all the reasons mentioned above, MEPs should move to approve the amendment at the first available opportunity.
More so, policymakers should strike at the root of the problem and urge the ECHA to consider a change in mentality. In light of the essential oils case, it has become clear that hazard-based thinking does not accurately reflect the dangers of substances. Such reasoning must be replaced with a risk-based assessment of emulsions and other compounds. A risk-based evaluation would operate with safe intended use levels and take realistic evidence seriously. Research has shown that essential oils are harmless to people, plants, animals, and the environment and preferable to artificial repellents like DEET and picaridin. Regulators should listen and follow suit. That would be the best news to look forward to.
Emil Panzaru is the Research Manager at the Consumer Choice Center. He has promoted consumer welfare as the standard for regulation in topics ranging from PFAS to agriculture.