Bulgaria champion of lavender wants to put the kibosh

A man picks lavender near the village of Zelenikovo in central Bulgaria on July 12, 2023 (Nikolay DOYCHINOV)

A man picks lavender near the village of Zelenikovo in central Bulgaria on July 12, 2023 (Nikolay DOYCHINOV)

A four-year reprieve: Bulgaria, the world’s largest producer of lavender oil, can breathe. Implementation of the EU’s vilified plan to review laws restricting harmful chemicals is likely to be put on hold.

However, the Balkan country is not letting its guard down, just like France, the other major player on the continent, where perfumers have recently added their voices to farmers.

In the village of Zelenikovo (center), the summer harvest was successful. With several hundred tonnes of lavender oil expected, Bulgaria is on track to retain the throne seized from France more than a decade ago (120 tonnes in 2022).

Yet Nikolay Nenkov broods. At the head of the Galen-N distillery, one of the largest in the region, he already imagines having to affix labels on his bottles taken out of the laboratory warning of the danger in the event of ingestion of the product or the risk of allergies.

“We fear that such measures will put off the consumer and eventually lead to the disappearance of the culture in certain regions”, where the tradition often dates back to the communist era, he told AFP.

What “more manhandle” a sector already undermined by global warming, parasites, prices at half mast or the lack of manpower.

– “Big step forward” –

The fight has been going on for years, from the Bulgarian valley to French Provence, where the photogenic fields seduce tourists and Internet users. Other major global producers include China, Moldova and Greece.

In question, the planned revision of European regulations on chemistry, known as REACH and CLP, to better inform consumers of the possible existence of endocrine disruptors, carcinogens or allergens.

If the first file has been postponed to the fourth quarter of 2023, the redesign of the second text is well advanced.

The Commission’s proposal to clarify the classification and labeling of substances, in particular for online sales, was thus discussed by the 27 members of the EU at the end of June.

Negotiations are now planned with the Parliament, which must examine the subject in small committee on September 11 before a vote in plenary session in October.

Faced with the reluctance of producers, the Council of the EU proposed a four-year exemption from the entry into force of the text.

“The problem is not solved but this postponement is a big step forward,” said Mr. Nenkov, with the support of Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov, a chemist by profession.

– Overproduction –

In the meantime, the EU executive is trying to allay concerns. “Essential oils are already defined as chemical substances,” said a spokesperson interviewed by AFP.

“The Commission does not intend to impose the analysis of each molecule” of essential oils or “to ban them”, but “plans to broaden the nature of the risks”, he underlines.

While pouring the pale yellow oil from the distillation process, the technician Vasil Andreev, 70 years old, including 45 years in the world of lavender, insists on the “natural” virtues of the plant.

It takes a hundred kilos of flowers, still pressed by the foot, to provide one kilo of this noble product intended for perfumery, aromatherapy and cosmetics.

But business is not good: it is currently trading on the national market for 20 to 35 euros, far from the 140 euros reached in 2018.

“The world has been in overproduction for three years, with supply exceeding demand and therefore prices falling, a situation that is prompting more and more farmers to throw in the towel”, explains expert Nikolay Valkanov , from the InteliAgro think tank, calling for “destroying fields” to rebalance the market.

In the distillery, where floats a powerful smell of lavender, the boss Nikolay Nenkov evokes “a big problem”. At current rates and with the dreaded new labels, “what sense” is there in pursuing culture?, he breathes.


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