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DNA being used to track timber trafficking


DNA testing is now being used to track timber trafficking.

Applied forestry genetic firm Double Helix Tracking Technologies provides a timber legality verification system entitled “CertiSource” that uses “DNA fingerprinting” to verify chain-of-custody documentation.

Such documentation is a common feature of all timber certification systems but acknowledged to be difficult to manage and vulnerable to fraud. DNA technology reduces the need for physical audits, lowering costs while improving the effectiveness of the system.

“DNA is in every cell in a wood product and you can’t falsify that DNA,” said Andrew Lowe, one of the world’s top geneticists. Lowe is active in the global fight against illegal logging and developed wood “DNA fingerprinting” technology in his laboratory at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. Later Double Helix Tracking Technologies commercialized Lowe’s technology, where he works as chief scientific officer.

The firm’s DNA testing technology is used by retailers such as Kingsfisher, Marks & Spencer, and Australian timber wholesaler Simmonds Lumber.

Wood trafficking is a US$30 billion dollar business that is mostly untaxed because of illegal logging. A recent study by the World Bank showed that every two seconds, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers. Annually, the area that is illegally cleared worldwide is equivalent to the size of Ireland.

Regulations and preventive measures have been found ineffective in dealing with illegal loggers. However, new laws have made companies at the end of the supply chain more vigilant as to where they get their timber due to fines and penalties.

Common practices in the timber trade include substitution of one type of wood for another, mislabeling and lying about origin. With DNA testing becoming more affordable, companies in the supply chain can use the process to comply with new regulations imposed by the U.S. and Europe against illegal logging.

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