Threat to tea tree oil industry

Tea tree industry fights to keep its oil classified as a therapeutic good, not an aromatherapy product


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Tea tree being harvested  on the North Coast prior to distillation for its valuable oil, which is generally used as an antic-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial medicine. If Tea Tree oil is no longer regarded as a therapeutic product there are fears its quality could be eroded by unscrupulous operators who no longer need to comply.

Tea tree being harvested on the North Coast prior to distillation for its valuable oil, which is generally used as an antic-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial medicine. If Tea Tree oil is no longer regarded as a therapeutic product there are fears its quality could be eroded by unscrupulous operators who no longer need to comply.

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Federal Government plans to remove tea tree oil from the Therapeutic Goods Administration Act has frightened the industry’s peak body, which says the medicinal product could be compromised by unscrupulous operators.

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Federal Government plans to remove tea tree oil from the Therapeutic Goods Administration Act has frightened the industry’s peak body, which says the medicinal product could be compromised by unscrupulous operators.

The fear is real, given what has already happened in the past, and now a recommendation to free all essential oils from requirements imposed by the Act has the potential to cripple what is a $35 million export industry, which benefits regional areas like the North Coast.

Australian Tea Tree Industry Association executive officer Tony Larkman said classifying the oil as no longer therapeutic would cruel all the work carried out by the industry to prove their product as legitimate.

“Tea tree oil is generally used as an antic-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial medicine,” said Mr Larkman. “If these plans go ahead quality controls for all essential oils could go out the window. We will see the old issue of adulterated oil rearing its ugly head.”

Mr Larkman said overseas customers, who buy 90 per cent of the Australian industry’s product, rely on the Theraputic Goods Administration definition of quality to ensure tea tree oil is not contaminated by waste left behind after pine and eucalypt oil production. In the past this practice has resulted in skin rashes and allergic reactions and the reputation of pure tea tree oil suffered, particularly in Europe.

The Australian Tea Tree Industry Association has worked long and hard to distance pure from fake oils by using a molecular carbon identification that employs chiral chemistry.

However Mr Larkman said there were grave fears that a new rise in fake oil would take place if tea tree oil was placed in the category of “aromatherapy”.

“Often overseas countries do not have their own regulations surrounding tea tree oil and they rely on the Australian standard to guarantee quality,” he said.

“This move by the Federal government could put a dent in the confidence of tea tree oil not only here in Australia but globally as well.”

The Australian tea tree industry currently produces 1000 tonnes of oil a year, of which 90 per cent is exported and used in the cosmetics and therapeutic industries.

“At the end of the day government regulation is required to guarantee quality,” he said. “We want to keep those regulations. Unless we have proof of efficacy and safety all our previous work to guarantee that will be wasted.”

Mr Larkman said other essential oils also faced a watering down of their reputation.

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