DNA timber tests to find those who go against the grain

8 December 2020

An Australian first national DNA testing program used to verify the species and origin of imported timber sold at retail outlets has released its first round of results, confirming more than 60 per cent of the species’ labels were accurate. 

Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonno Duniam said the compliance testing was conducted to build consumer trust and identify those who trade off illegally harvested products.

“Australia’s forestry industry is sustainable and well-managed, employing over 52,000 hardworking men and women in regional communities across the country, but Australia is not immune to the trade of illegally logged timber,” Assistant Minister Duniam said. 

“We will always back Aussie timber – but when it comes to imported timber it’s essential consumers can have confidence in the products they’re purchasing.

“Timber samples were purchased from major hardware stores, timber suppliers and furniture stores in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

“The products came from various countries and were sold as oak, merbau, meranti, acacia, eucalyptus, pine, rosewood, mahogany and teak varieties. The samples were sent to the University of Adelaide for testing, which found 60 per cent of the timber species were accurately labelled in the first round of testing. 

“In some instances, the timber was labelled incorrectly, and it’s concerning that DNA testing found durian tree had been wrongly labelled as cedar in one instance, while a species of rubber tree was labelled as meranti. 

“The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will now work with retailers to determine where the problems have occurred and identify if there has been any deliberate non-compliance.

“Timber importers must have robust due diligence processes to guarantee the accuracy of labelling from their timber suppliers. 

“Under the Illegal Logging Act Prohibition Act 2012, importers are required to undertake due diligence, including identifying, assessing and managing any risks that the timber may be illegally harvested.

“The Department can issue infringement notices for breaches of the regulations, with penalties up to $2664 for individuals and up to $13,320 for body corporates.

“The maximum penalty for a serious breach of the legislation can be up to $111,000 for individuals and up to $555,000 for body corporates, and up to five years’ imprisonment. 

“Illegal logging is a major global problem, and the United Nations and Interpol estimate that illegal logging costs the global community up to $206 billion each year. It is estimated that up to 10 per cent, or $800 million, of our timber imports could come from high-risk sources every year.

“Australian consumers should be able to buy timber products secure in the knowledge that they are not contributing to illegal harvesting.

“Australia was one of the first counties in the world to have these kinds of laws, which demonstrates our commitment to reducing illegal logging globally and providing assurances to Australian consumers.

“Compliance testing reminds importers and domestic timber processors of their obligations to conduct due diligence to ensure timber species are correctly labelled.”