CSI Meets Illegal Loggers

Australian timber company, Simmonds Lumber Group, has taken the lead in helping stamp out the $30 billion illegal logging industry using the ultimate weapon against wrong-doers:  DNA.

The company’s announcement came this week as the federal government’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 passed the House of Representatives.  The bill bans the importation and sale of any wooden products that contain illegally logged timber.

Simmonds Lumber now uses innovative DNA technology developed by the University of Adelaide and Singapore-based DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies.  Just a few wood shavings can provide the tree’s entire history and its source sidelining any would-be fraudsters.

In a recent World Bank report, an area the size of a football field is felled every two seconds around the globe.  Illegal logging profits fuels other criminal activities and human rights abuses.  Land clearing on this scale is one of the major causes of global warming and loss of biodiversity.  Up until now, law enforcement efforts against these criminals have failed.

Illegal logging is particularly rife in Indonesia where the Merbau tree, sought after in Australia for its durable qualities such as decking and flooring, is a lucrative business for racketeers.

But thanks to the DNA tracking system, buyers now have a fool-proof weapon against illegal loggers.  According to Jonathan Geach, DoubleHelix’s Executive:

“Every tree has its own individual barcode system, DNA, that travels with it.  Using nature’s barcode we can prove an origin of a table, chair, a piece of flooring, a piece of decking.  We can link it back to where it came from.  This is like CSI meets Save the Planet.”

Under new Australian laws, and those being developed around the world, criminal charges will be brought against companies that can’t prove their timber imports are legal.

“This is an issue for me and my board”, said Simmonds Lumber’s Chief Executive, John Simons.  “We need to make sure everything we do satisfies not only moral requirements but legal requirements as well.”

Simmonds checks every pallet the company imports matching DNA samples with those from the original tree in the forest and the sawmill, supplied by DoubleHelix.

At Simmonds, every pallet is now labelled “DNA lumber”.

Scientists are now developing a database of DNA for a growing number of tree species around the world scoring a big win for vulnerable forests and the fight against global warming.

DoubleHelix’s ultimate goal is to make DNA testing so cheap that all companies around the world will follow Simmonds Lumber Group’s lead.


(this article first appeared in Independent Australia 24 August 2012)