Tea tree faces efficacy test
By DAWN COHEN
CHRISTOPHER DEAN is betting on tea tree oil to heal its own manufacturing industry's biggest wound yet.
The natural remedy will undergo the world's largest evaluation of its efficacy after the industry was rocked by European Union concerns regarding its safety earlier this year.
"Everything we know about tea tree gives me confidence it will come out on top," said Mr Dean, executive director of Ballina tea tree company, TP Health.
Ten days ago the Australian Tea Tree Association (ATEA) met the Australian Government Rural Industries Research Development Corporation (RIRDC) to nut out the details of investigations demanded by the European Union after complaints the oil could cause skin reactions.
The European Union requested the research be conducted when Mr Dean flew to Brussels in June to lobby the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products to protect the international $100 million tea tree market.
ATEA secretary Peter Bryant said the Northern Riversdominated industry brings about $10 million a year to primary producers.
"The industry is more united now than I have ever seen it," Mr Bryant said.
Mr Dean said the Federal Government would pay 50 per cent of research costs, expected to be up to $500,000.
Canberra-based toxicologist Dr John Issa will co-ordinate the project.
It will include a large-scale literature review on the volatile oil and its chemical components as well as original research.
A world-first study investigating tea tree oil's stability when properly stored has been designed by TP Health's regulatory manager, Dr Rob- ert Rierdel, in conjunction with Dr Ian Southwell, an international authority on essential oils from the Department of Agriculture at Wollongbar.
A Queensland study will investigate absorption of the traditional Aboriginal remedy by the skin.
"It is good for the tea tree industry in the long run," Mr Dean said.
"The so-called attack on tea tree is rebounding in its favour, because the issue is now being brought to the attention of the international community.
"We have lots of international support.
"I am going to Germany in November to talk to 150 scientists concerned for the well-being of tea tree."
In a preliminary investigation, Mr Dean has found that of over 22 million units of tea tree oil sold by five companies, there have been 94 complaints of adverse skin reactions.
"That is a very small percentage," he said.
"The very worst case scenario, and it's rare, is a maddening itch on the skin, with some weeping.
"It clears up within a week."
"RIRDC has funded 24 studies over the last five years that prove the safety and efficacy of tea tree."