by Chrissie Wildwood 20.11.02

After much sleuthing, it is now certain that Mt Romance (the main producers of Australian sandalwood 'oil') were directly involved in the commissioning of acute dermal and oral toxicity tests carried out by the Danish laboratory Scantox in the year 2000.  Tragically, animals have been tortured and destroyed in the name of Australian sandalwood.

Prior to founding the Australian sandalwood enterprise, the director of Mt. Romance Stephen Birkbeck was formerly involved in the trading of crocodiles and turtles.   Furthermore, Mt Romance were (perhaps still are?) involved in the cruel and unnecessary practice of emu farming for 'bush meat' and emu oil, which is used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.  Whether or not Mt. Romance still farm emu is beside the point: certainly they retain a huge stake in the industry as they continue to market emu oil preparations in tandem with Australian sandalwood products.   Most aromatherapists would not knowingly support a producer involved in animal testing.  Neither would they wish to support a company directly involved in the exploitation of
Australia's national emblem for the purpose of 'harvesting' its body lipids. It is important to mention that the emu is rapidly declining in the wild due to land clearance and other human interference.

Having 'caught wind' of my discovery of the animal testing, Mt Romance attempted a cover-up in the guise of ambiguous reporting.   One person to my knowledge (and goodness knows how many others) was sent a 'correction' of my article, Spotlight on the Trade in Endangered Plants (WEBPAGE LINK?). The enquirer had asked Mt Romance's scientific officer Valerie Gearon to confirm whether animal testing had been carried out on Australian sandalwood extract.  Instead of answering his question directly, here is the relevant part of her reply:

I would like to sight the reference Ms Wildwood refers to regarding  the painful experiments on laboratory rodents...the antimicrobial, fungicidal and anti - inflammatory properties of Santalum ascertained using internationally standardised in vitro assays utilising microorganisms and enzyme systems. There is no animal (well, not macroscopic, anyway) experimentation involved at all...Human clinical trials have identified that " A clearly significant anti - inflammatory effect [is] observed against UV - induced inflammation. The effectiveness [is] similar to that of the positive control, Indomethacin, a known anti - inflammatory agent."   The anti - inflammatory mechanism of Australian sandalwood oil has been quantified by studying the inhibition of enzymes causing inflammation. The oil demonstrates very significant activity in this regard, particularly against the enzyme 12 - lipoxygenase, and both cycoloxygenases (COX 1 and COX 2). In order to quantify the safety of long term usage of Australian sandalwood oil, acute oral and dermal toxicity studies have been commissioned which found no evidence of toxicity. Repeat Insult Patch Testing has been conducted to ascertain allergenic /sensitivity potential to Australian Sandalwood Oil. The authors of this test assert that the oil is a " non - primary irritant and a non primary sensitiser to the skin." No adverse reactions of any kind were noted during the course of this study.

Now, most readers with little scientific knowledge would be forgiven for believing that the acute dermal and oral toxicity tests were equally innocuous.  See how the statement given in bold above has been slipped in between the information pertaining to in vitro and human studies.

With a little prompting from myself, the vegan 'cruelty free' Australian essential oil supplier Springfields (a major supplier of Australian sandalwood 'oil' to the aromatherapy profession) eventually persuaded Mt. Romance to 'come clean' about the animal testing.   As a result, Springfields have taken the ethical decision to stop selling the product. However, they have made it clear that their decision was made solely on the grounds of animal testing.  They are unable to accept my ecological
argument against the felling of extremely slow growing trees stolen from the Australian desert.

Nevertheless, we can regard this as a minor victory for the campaign.  While I'm deeply saddened that laboratory animals were cruelly sacrificed, I'm heartened that their deaths were not in vain.   This story will touch the hearts of all caring people who, as a result, will choose to boycott Australian sandalwood products.  In so doing, many ancient trees will be saved from the chainsaw massacre of the Mt Romance enterprise.

Watch this space for further developments!

Copyright Chrissie Wildwood 2002

Update 20.10.02

I'm happy to report that the Soil Association (SA) are investigating every one of my complaints. As well as promising to have a major rethink about certifying any source of sandalwood and rosewood, they are looking at other species such as Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) which is in serious decline in Morocco and Algeria. I've also advised them not to certify oils obtained from any other wild Cedrus species, including Himalayan cedar ( C. deodara).

The SA have also agreed to put to their committee members my proposal for a cut off date for plantations - that is to say, nothing will be certified as organic if grown on land deforested after 1994. This is the date set by sustainable timber organisations such as Woodmark (UK).  Lessons have been learned and I'm sure the SA would not wish to risk further embarrassments. So let's give them the chance to prove it.

I've also accepted an invitation to speak on the subject of endangered species and related social issues at the spring conference of the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA) on the 26th April 2003.  I'm still awaiting a response from the International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA), but I trust they will be supportive.

Two other UK organisations supporting the campaign are the Natural Medicines Society and GEOTA (a professional body for veterinary aromatherapy.  Both organisations have promised to carry a report in their forthcoming newsletters.

Furthermore, I'm pleased to report that the National Association for
Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) in the USA have asked to publish an edited
version of the campaign launch article, 'Spotlight on the Trade in Aromatic
Plants' for the Spring edition of their quarterly journal. Likewise, the Australian journal 'Aromatherapy Today'.

Although I have written to at least a dozen essential oil suppliers at home and abroad, requesting that they kindly consider dropping certain oils from their catalogues, there has been only one encouraging response, albeit heard through the grapevine rather than directly!

One shining exception is Neal's Yard Remedies. This was the first company approached before the campaign launch article appeared on this website.  They have invited me to speak to their buyers on Wednesday 26th October.  Even if I'm only partially successful in persuading them to drop certain oils and herbs from their catalogue, at least they are making an effort.  The company director is wise and humble enough not to be offended
by my polite requests to take a closer look at some of the products they

Watch this space for further developments!

Copyright Chrissie Wildwood 2002