Fraud and misrepresentation in retail forest products exceeds U.S. forensic wood science capacity

PLoS One. 2019 Jul 25;14(7):e0219917. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0219917. eCollection 2019.


Fraud and misrepresentation in forest products supply chains is often associated with illegal logging, but the extent of fraud in the U.S. forest products market, and the availability of forensic expertise to detect it, is unknown. We used forensic wood anatomy to test 183 specimens from 73 consumer products acquired from major U.S. retailers, surveyed U.S. experts regarding their forensic wood anatomy capacity, and conducted a proficiency-testing program of those experts. 62% of tested products (45 of 73) had one or more type of fraudulent or misrepresented claim. Survey respondents reported a total capacity of 830 wood specimens per year, and participants' identification accuracy ranged from 6% to 92%. Given the extent of fraud and misrepresentation, U.S. wood forensic wood anatomy capacity does not scale with the need for such expertise. We call for increased training in forensic wood anatomy and its broader application in forest products supply chains to eliminate fraud and combat illegal logging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Forensic Sciences / education
  • Forensic Sciences / methods*
  • Forests
  • Fraud
  • Marketing
  • United States
  • Wood / anatomy & histology*
  • Wood / classification

Grant support

Funding and other support for this study was provided to the authors by the World Resources Institute (MPF), World Wildlife Fund (AS, AF, JS, ACW) and the US Forest Service (ACW, RS, JS). Funders (WWF and US Forest Service) contracted one of the authors, JS, who is the sole employee at Simeone Consulting, LLC, to help execute the study, including involvement in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, and preparation of the manuscript. The specific role of this author is articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.