EU-Organic-Regulation: Salt is to become organic - producers are alarmed
by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)
Sea salt producers warn that organic salt may contain undesirable additives and be produced in an energy-intensive and climate-damaging way. These are still plans of the EU Commission, but they are advanced - and there is little resistance. What is at stake?
In organic law, salt has so far been considered a non-agricultural ingredient. This means that it cannot be certified. However, it also does not count when calculating the organic content of a product. Salt may not be labelled as organic. Unless it contains certified organic ingredients, such as organic herbal salt. There are therefore no specifications for the salt used by organic processors, nor for table salt sold in shops. This is because there is no such thing as a salt regulation in the EU.
Organic associations make specifications for salt. For example, the Bioland guidelines state: "When salt is used, table salt (sea salt, preferably rock salt), also iodised, is to be used. The use of iodised table salt must be clearly labelled. Calcium carbonate (E 170) and magnesium carbonate (E 504) are permitted as anti-caking agents". Naturland allows iodised salt and E 170, Demeter only E 170.
Rock salt lobby prevails
Because salt is an important and less transparent ingredient, the EU Commission wants to include it as a certifiable ingredient in the new EU organic regulation and presented a first draft in February 2019. This disappeared into oblivion after some member states raised concerns.
The Commission then asked its Expert Group for Technical Advice on Organic Production (EGTOP) for an opinion. The panel set up a working group to which it appointed four salt experts: three from the sea salt fraction and one expert advising mainly the rock salt industry. The result was a report that would have excluded all mountain rock salt production from organic certification as "non-natural", and a minority vote by the industry expert that almost any common salt would be certifiable. Both reports were submitted in March 2021 and EGTOP decided on its report in June 2021 - which largely agreed with the rock salt expert's opinion.
Can mining be organic?
Andrea Siebert from the Portuguese sea salt producer Marisol was herself in the EGTOP working group and is appalled: "From our point of view, only sea salt and salt from brine sources is comparable to agriculture as 'farmed salt', so organic as a concept is applicable at all."
If mined rock salt were certified as organic, there could also be organic gold or organic diamonds in the future, argues Siebert. She fears that the market for organic salt would then go to the large corporations of the potash and chlorine industries, for whom table salt is only a cheap by-product to be sold.
Meanwhile, the issue has reached the Standing Committee on Organic Agriculture (COP) of member states. At a brief discussion on the EGTOP report at the end of September, Spain and Germany are said to have requested a detailed discussion at a future COP meeting.
France is reported to have pointed out that several of the salt production methods advocated in the EGTOP report are not compatible with organic principles. This was reported by David Thual, Executive Director of the Association of Artisanal Sea Salt Producers.
No results are yet known from a further discussion in the COP on 28 October. The Commission has made it clear that it will draft a proposal for a regulation on the basis of the EGTOP report.
No coordinated position in the German organic sector
While in France the media reported widely on the issue of organic salt and the French government has a clear position at EU level, there is still radio silence in Germany. According to BÖLW, there is no agreed position on the issue in the organic sector.
While most would probably agree that there is no need for the additive E535 sodium ferrocyanide for salt, which EGTOP would allow. But many manufacturers use rock salt, which would then not be organic according to the ideas of the sea salt faction - regardless of whether it is extracted traditionally by hand in pans, as in Luisenhall, or on a large scale from brine, as in Bad Reichenhall.
The topic also has significance beyond organic farming: Germany is the fourth largest salt producer in the world and exports large quantities of salt to the EU. Two companies, K+S and Südwestdeutsche Salzwerke (to which Reichenhaller belongs), dominate 86 percent of the market. Table salt only accounts for 2.5 per cent. Most of the salt goes to industry as a raw material and to winter road clearance services as de-icing salt.