Hand-harvested sea salt, Castro Marim – Photo: TERRAS DE SAL

Castro Marim salt producers oppose proposal to label “almost all salt” organic

A group of salt producers from Castro Marim is urging the Portuguese government to help its fight against new specifications being drawn up by the European Commission (EC) which they say will essentially open up the door for any kind of salt to be labelled “organic”.

A decisive meeting about this issue will be held next Thursday (October 28), the Terras do Sal group says in a statement to the press.

Earlier this month, the European Federation of Hand-harvested Sea Salt had already opposed the proposed changes.

“The report published by the European Commission on August 9, 2021 completely fails to assess the compatibility of the different salt production methods with the objectives and principles of the EU organic regulation,” the federation said, classifying the content as “extremely worrying”.

“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,” it added.

“This would mean that tens of millions of tons of salt in Europe could be labelled as organic, whereas today most of the few thousand tons of salt sold in organic shops come from traditional sea saltworks,” the federation explained.

Joining the opposition now is Terras de Sal, which says that the EC’s report ignores the feedback from three of the four specialists who were consulted.

“Three of the specialists categorically said that mine salt and vacuum salt do not have the conditions, due to how they are produced, to receive the organic product seal, but the fourth specialist suggested exactly the opposite,” the group says, adding that only this fourth specialist’s opinion was taken into account.

As the producers point out, allowing any kind of salt to be labelled “organic” would lead to a “huge decrease in the quality” of so-called organic salt and would most likely leave many artisanal producers out of business, as they would be unable to compete with the “huge amounts of salt that would be produced industrially at low costs”.

The salt producers also lament that Portugal has not taken a stand against the proposed changes and has simply stood aside, while France has said that these new methods are not in line with what should be considered organic salt and Spain and Germany have requested a new meeting to discuss the matter further.

The group is hopeful that the Portuguese government will join the fight before the upcoming meeting.

Lusa news agency points out that salt production in the Algarve occurs mostly between Olhão and Vila Real de Santo António and dates back centuries to the region’s Roman occupation.

The industry flourished in the 1970s and 80s but, following the collapse of the Algarve’s fish canning industry, salt production also all but disappeared.

The turn of the century brought new life to the industry, however, and the two salt pans which had ‘survived’ up until 2000 are now joined by an additional 15, bringing the tally to 17.

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Vacuum salt factory
Hand-harvested sea salt, Castro Marim – Photo: TERRAS DE SAL