29 March, 2007

THE AGE: Timber DNA profiles reduce market for illegal logging

Philip Hopkins
March 29, 2007

ONE of Australia's largest timber importers has introduced technology that ensures that no wood it brings into Australia has been illegally logged.

Simmonds Lumber now conducts DNA testing of timber — a world first — that verifies the exact source of each tree being imported from Indonesia. The test is similar to DNA testing of humans.

The technology is expected to strengthen the fight against the estimated $400 million worth of illegally logged timber products now imported into Australia annually.

Simmonds, which has an annual turnover of $100 million, has invested more than $250,000 in the past five years to develop the technology with Singapore timber auditing company Certisource.

A genetic profile is taken of each tree while it is growing in legally allocated concession areas in Indonesia. Simmonds chief executive Paul Elsmore says a sample is also sent to Certisource in Singapore.

The genetic profile is then rematched with another genetic analysis once the logs have arrived at the production mill in Indonesia.

"This proves the log has come from the concession," Mr Elsmore said. "It's checked against the data in Singapore."

The approved timber is then processed through the mill, where it is audited by Certisource, before finally being exported to Australia.

Mr Elsmore said he was confident the technology would make Australia a world leader in the global fight against illegal logging.

Mr Elsmore said Indonesia was suffering one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, with more than 80 per cent of all wood produced and sold there thought to be illegal.

"In the past five years, though, the Government has made huge inroads into reducing this," he said. "It's improving every day."

Mr Elsmore said the legal concessions were probably in regrowth native forest areas.

Many auditing systems rely on a "certificate of origin" issued in the source country to prove the legality of the cargo. "However, these systems can be corrupted. Many log smugglers sidestep the authorities by providing false certificates," Mr Elsmore said.

About 150,000 cubic metres of sawn timber is imported into Australia from South-East Asia every year. Simmonds has imported about 10,000 cubic metres of DNA-tested merbau products into Australia in a test program.

Australia imports about $4 billion worth of forest products annually, but has a trade deficit of about $2 billion in forest products.


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