A team of scientists decided to measure fraud and misrepresentation (FM) in wood products on the shelves of major U.S. retailers.
"We investigated 73 consumer forest products acquired in the U.S. market from major retailers for the presence of FM," say scientists in the study published in the Plos One scientific journal. "We emphasized products that a typical American family might purchase–products included furniture, kitchen implements, sporting equipment, musical instruments, hand tools, home improvement materials, and other durable household items."
The team used forensic wood anatomy to test 183 specimens from the 73 products. 62 percent of tested products (45 of 73) had one or more type of fraudulent or misrepresented claim.
The study then breaks it down into two specific types of fraud and misrepresentation: botanical identity (wrong species) and the product type itself (solid wood or particleboard, for example.)
"40 of the 73 (55 percent) products tested showed clear evidence of botanical misrepresentation, with only 33 products (45 percent) being entirely made of woods consistent with the claimed species. For botanical misrepresentation, the material can be completely misrepresented, or it can be commingled with properly identified wood. Such FM can be the result of an honest mistake, for example two closely related species that can only be separated by floral characteristics may be impossible to identify at the time of harvest because the trees are not flowering. Approximately 20 percent of the botanical FM claims we found could plausibly be attributed to honest mistakes and could be construed as misrepresentation."
"Conversely, loggers may selectively harvest high-value protected species but document them as lower-value woods, or a manufacturer or retailer may represent a low-value wood as higher-value wood. These latter two cases are examples of unambiguous fraud, whereas the former is an instance where a legitimate case for good-faith confusion and misrepresentation can be made. In all cases, the product claim is at a minimum misrepresented. When closely related or other similar species are mixed, as in the former example, such misrepresentation is not likely to be detected by the consumer, and may not appreciably impact the performance of the product."
"21 percent of the product-type claims were inaccurate in the products we evaluated. This is consistent with field observations in retail settings, where the most common type of FM is the claim of solid wood when in fact the product-type is a veneer adhered to non-solid-wood substrate (Wiedenhoeft, personal observation). Product-type FM is entirely human driven, as the product-type is the result of primary and secondary manufacturing choices and is not inherently dependent on the species or origin of the wood. Despite its dependence entirely on human choices, product-type FM can have gradations in severity. For example, plywood is not considered solid wood, but a maple butcher-block table top formed of many finger-jointed, glued-up pieces of solid wood is construed as solid wood in our data. If a consumer were expecting a single piece of wood, a product claim that called such a table top solid wood could be considered an honest mistake or misunderstanding. The same table top claiming solid wood construction, but made with a veneer of maple glued to a medium density fiberboard substrate is not solid wood, and would be a clear case of product-type FM."
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