June 29, 2022

62 percent of retail wood products are distorted or fraudulent, study finds

A team of scientists decided to measure fraud and misrepresentation (FM) in wood products on the shelves of major US retailers.

“We investigated 73 consumer forest products purchased in the US market from major retailers for the presence of FM,” say the scientists in the study published in the scientific journal Plos One. “We focused on products that a typical American family could buy – the products included furniture, kitchenware, sports equipment, musical instruments, hand tools, home improvement materials and other durable household items. “

The team used the forensic anatomy of wood to test 183 specimens of the 73 products. 62 percent of the products tested (45 of 73) had one or more types of fraudulent or misrepresented claims.

The study then breaks it down into two specific types of fraud and misrepresentation: botanical identity (wrong species) and the type of product itself (solid wood or chipboard, for example.)

“40 of 73 (55 percent) products tested showed clear evidence of botanical misrepresentation, with only 33 products (45 percent) being made entirely from wood compatible with the claimed species. For a botanical misrepresentation, the material may be completely distorted, or it may be mixed with properly identified wood. Such an FM may be the result of honest error, for example two closely related species which can only be separated by floral characteristics may be impossible to identify at harvest time because the trees are not blooming. About 20% of the botanical FM claims we found could plausibly be attributed to honest errors and could be interpreted as a misrepresentation. “

“Conversely, loggers may selectively harvest high value protected species but document them as low value timber, or a manufacturer or retailer may portray low value timber as higher value timber. The latter two cases are examples of unambiguous fraud, while the former is a case where a legitimate case of good faith confusion and misrepresentation can be put forward. In all cases, the product claim is at least misrepresented. When closely related species or other similar species are mixed, as in the first example, such misrepresentation is not likely to be detected by the consumer and may not have an appreciable impact on the performance of the product. “

“21% of product type claims were inaccurate in the products we reviewed. This is consistent with field observations in retail stores, where the most common type of FM is the solid wood claim when in fact the product type is veneer adhered to a non-solid wood substrate. (Wiedenhoeft, personal observation) The FM product type is entirely human-driven, as the product type is the result of primary and secondary manufacturing choices and does not inherently depend on the species or origin of the Good as it depends entirely on human choices, the type of FM product can have varying degrees of severity. solid wood is interpreted as solid wood in our data. If a consumer expected just one piece of wood, a product claim that called for such a solid wood table top could be viewed as an honest mistake or misunderstanding. Solid wood construction, but made of maple veneer glued to medium density fiberboard substrate is not solid wood, and would be a clear case of FM product type.