Lavender farmers are worried that under new legislation products containing lavender oil will have to bear a black and red warning symbol. They will also have to bear the warning ‘fatal if swallowed’. You can see why this might put people off.
The ruling is part of a complicated bit of legislation called REACH, which aims to control dangerous chemicals. I normally like to check out stories like this in detail before writing about them. But REACH is frankly so complicated that you really need to be a specialist to understand its implications. That lavender is so dangerous will come as a surprise to the many people who handle it on a daily basis. It is a component of the herbs de provence blend that lovers of french cuisine use as a flavouring. So I think there is a good chance that somebody somewhere has misinterpreted something.
But if the rule does come into force I suspect that it won’t cause much in the way of loss of sales for the lavender growers. It is much more likely to cause a loss of credibility for the framers of the legislation. Irrelevant blood curdling labelling is something that lab scientists have been living with for years. To take the example of lavender oil, if you have some in a lab it already needs extensive warnings on the container. There is better justification in this case than in that for a consumer product. There is no telling what a scientist in a lab is going to get up to with his sample. There is also the fact that the amount of something is important. If you were transporting a few tonnes of lavender oil in a container on a lorry it does pose risks that arise with a 10ml dropper that you use to keep the potpourri in your living room fresh.
But I can tell you from very direct personal experience, when most of the things on the shelf have warnings on them they might just as well have none on them. You soon get to know what things can really be harmful and which ones have scary labels just to satisfy the health and safety laws. You use your own judgement about what risks you are prepared to take.
A lot of consumer goods already carry the same kinds of warnings that industrial goods do. Have a look at the next aerosol you pick up and try to imagine you would handle it if you had never seen one before and had to go by what was written on the back of it. Most of the time you take no notice of the warnings. But I think people are aware that aerosols do pose a little higher level of risk than other products. If we start getting similar things on products that we all know very well are perfectly safe like lavender soaps or shampoos the end result won’t be that we will stop using the products. We’ll just stop reading the labels.
Is that what the framers of the legislation in the European Parliament intended when they passed the REACH act? I think if anyone is going to lose support here it is more likely to be MEPs than lavender farmers.