SIGNS that read “Lavande en danger” have sprung up in the lavender fields of Provence, as European regulations threaten an centuries-old industry already struggling to cope with a destructive bacteria.
New EU rules say that essential lavender oil should be treated as a chemical, and that any product that uses it should include a health warning.
The REACH Directive, which came into force in late 2013, also requires distillers to be treated as chemical manufacturers, and undertake tests to assess the impact of their products.
Lavender farmers fear that the new rules will be the death knell for the industry as perfumiers turn to alternatives.
Raymond Agnels, a lavender producer in Apt, Vaucluse, described the rules as “utter nonsense”. He said: “The term distillation is inappropriate, it is extracting water vapour.”
And MP Christophe Castaner described the directive as, “a threat to the entire industry”.
He said it is, “inappropriate because lavender is not a chemical”.
The EU rules come on top of years of struggle against the destructive phytoplasma Stolbur bacteria that has wreaked havoc since the mid-2000s.
It is spread by the sap-sucking leafhopper insect, which has also been blamed for spreading the flavescence dorée disease, which can be deadly for vines and threaten entire vineyards.
Once contaminated, a lavender plant will die back in a matter of months.
During the last decade, nearly 50% of the lavender fields of Vaucluse were destroyed by the bacteria.
The decline has been stemmed in recent years, and lavender oil production in 2015 is expected to reach 50 tonnes, from a low of 30 tonnes in 2010.
The improving yield of the lavender crop is thanks in part to greater rainfall in Provence, following years of drought between 2003 and 2007.
But, the situation remains fragile, Eric Chaisse, director of Crieppam (Centre régional interprofessionnel d'expérimentation en plantes à parfum), told news website 20minutes.fr.
He said: “If it is very dry in July and August, you can expect a disastrous harvest following the year.”