In January, the new Regulation (EU) 2018/848 for organic production was launched. This brought the application of organic production rules to new products, such as sea salt and other salts for food and feed. The extension of certification is good news, reflecting the sector’s growth and diversification. But the creation of specific production standards for salt production is causing controversy among artisanal producers.

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123rfLimited©pszabo. Janubio Salt Refinery, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

A new organic product

Even though salt is a nature-based mineral, it does not always meet the requirements for organic production. Therefore, under the new regulation, the European Commission is working to define organic salt production methods in order to clarify which types of salt can be labelled “organic”.

So far, the Regulation did not allow the use of the EU organic logo on salt labelling, with the exception of seasoning (salt mixed with organic herbs). However, some national and private certifiers did certify salt as an organic product. INTERECO in Spain, Sativa in Portugal or Nature et Progrès in France implemented salt certification at the request of manufacturers and under specific requirements: quality and traceability systems, exclusive use of authorised additives, documentary reviews, on-site audits and regular sampling.

The regulation would make virtually no distinction between salt production methods, even though they do not have the same environmental impact

Can all salts be organic?

In order to consider which measures in line with the regulation could be proposed, the Commission requested an in-depth analysis from Expert Group for Technical Advice on Organic Production (EGTOP), who published in June 2021 the final assessment on “Organic sea salt and other salts for food and feed”.

Regulation (EU) 2018/848 rules shall apply to the organic production of food grade salt and salt for feed obtained from the sea, from rock salt deposits, from natural brine or from salt lakes”, the report states. It would therefore allow the collection and production of salt using traditional and artisanal techniques, as well as mechanical and industrial processes, prohibiting the use of explosives, brine solutions, evaporation and direct drying with combustion gases, oil, wood or coal, the use of biocides and other unauthorised additives and aids.

However, the specifications defining rules for concessing the EU organic logo concerns some artisanal sea salt producers, who see the certification proposal as too environmentally unfriendly.

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123rfLimited©pierreolivierclement. Noirmoutier salt marshes, France

Rising controversy

The regulation would make no distinction between production methods and would put artisanal and industrial production on the same level, even though they do not have the same environmental impact. Therefore, Artisanal Sea Salt Europe objected the report, arguing that the regulation would be too lax and could contradict the organic essence: “The European Commission is preparing to make virtually all existing salt production methods eligible for the organic label, including the least environmentally friendly ones, such as mine salt and vacuum salt”.

Artisanal producers call for stricter regulations

They point out that these processes are responsible for the destruction of ecosystems, the abuse of non-renewable energy sources and the use of additives or adjuvants that would undermine the natural character of salt as a mineral. From the producers’ point of view, this would contradict the EU’s green policy objectives regarding the preservation of biodiversity and the reduction of the carbon footprint, as well as destabilising the salt market (to the detriment of small producers) and causing confusion among consumers.

“For the production of all these salts it is not necessary to add any artificial substances and they could cover the potential demand for this mineral at European level. Just as we cannot aspire to grow organic tomatoes in climates where these crops do not work, we cannot expect all regions of Europe to be organic salt producers,” says the Spanish Association of Sea Salt Producers (Salimar).

First proposal to establish a standardised salt certification was rejected as too flexible with the European Green Deal’s objectives

Requests to the European Commission

Artisanal producers call for consistency from the European Commission and for stricter rules that also take into account the method of salt production, so that salt does not pose an environmental threat. Specifically, they propose that only sea salt or salt from natural brines, obtained by natural evaporation through the action of the sun and wind, should be granted the EU organic logo.

The first proposal to standardise salt certification was made in 2019 and was rejected for being too flexible with the objectives of the European Green Deal. Only time will tell whether the European Commission will now prioritise them with the new organic salt certification.

Author: Ariadna Coma, Journalist

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