Using genetics to remove illegal timber from global supply chains

Signal of change / Using genetics to remove illegal timber from global supply chains

By Pallavi Ahuja / 15 Jun 2016

Headquartered in Singapore, Double Helix Tracking Technologies specialise in using DNA testing of timber to verify its origins. Billed as a “CSI for the wood industry,” Double Helix’s Timber Tracking service involves sampling the wood at the time of harvest and then again further down the process to reconfirm the chain of custody. If there is a mismatch, it alerts the buyer against illegal or inauthentic timber in their supply chain.

DNA testing is now commonplace in human biology and other domains. In recent years it has become far less cumbersome and efficient, making it commercially viable and cost effective on a large scale, and available for use in industries such as timber.

So what?

The company is aiming to tackle the illicit timber trade and is already working with the likes of Kingfisher, Europe’s largest home improvement retailer, and Simmonds Lumber, an Australian wholesaler.

Jon Stewart, the CEO of the Simmonds Group claims that they have won major sales opportunities as a result of their long term relationship with Double Helix -- which has helped them build trust and credibility in the highly competitive timber market.

UNEP reports an estimated US$100 billion of illicit logging and forest crime annually, or 30 percent of the total global timber trade. According to a 2010 Chatham House Report, the illegal logs cut each year, if laid end-to-end, would stretch 10 times around the Earth.

Illegal logging and the illegal timber trade undermine sustainability in multiple ways. They are threats to the Indigenous communities who depend on forest resources, they destroy habitat that is critical to wildlife and ecosystems, and they diminish the capacity of the forest to sequester carbon.

Deforestation, especially of tropical rainforests, is responsible for an estimated 17 percent of all man made emissions, and 50 percent more than that from shipping, aviation, and land transport combined.

Should this technology scale up to be easily accessible, it offers the potential to significantly curtail the illegal timber trade.

Do you think this can be an affordable and practical industry solution to enable the world to fight against deforestation and the illegal timber trade?

Could this lead to better margins for compliant timber traders?

Image credit: Ales Krivec / Unsplash

Sources

Singapore- Reuters (Aug 20, 2012) Insight: DNA tests tell trees from the wood; curb illegal logging

UNEP and Interpol report ‘Green Carbon, Black Trade’

About Double Helix Double Helix webpage

WWF Australia- Illegal logging

UNEP News Centre (June 24, 2014) Illegal Trade in Wildlife and Timber Products Finances Criminal and Militia Groups, Threatening Security and Sustainable Development

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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