Wondering where the wood in your new dresser or coffee table came from? If the furniture came from a mass retailer — even Ikea, which has been recognized for efforts in more sustainable sourcing — it’s possible that some of the wood came from old-growth or illegally logged forests. A new bill currently in the House may make it even more difficult to trace sources of wood.

In 2008, a conservation law called the Lacey Act was strengthened to require retailers to disclose where they purchased wood for their products. Products made from trees or plants that were illegally harvested in other countries became illegal to import to the U.S. The law also requires retailers to list materials and sourcing information at the border. But after heavy opposition from retailers, the government gave a grace period for products made from materials like particleboard.

Retailers argued that providing wood sources was too difficult for composite materials like particleboard or fiberboard. For a product like a MALM dresser from Ikea, the material might be made from 26 different species of wood from 18 countries — and that’s if sourcing was straightforward.

Because of complicated layers of suppliers and sub-suppliers, Ikea says a piece of furniture could involve as many as 800 different producers. The company has argued that it shouldn’t have to declare sources until it’s more practical to gather the needed information. Because they don’t share that info now, it also means that you can’t be sure your furniture came from legal, sustainable sources. The majority of Ikea’s wood products are made from composite materials.

More opposition to the Lacey Act came from conservative and Tea Party groups, in reaction to raids on Gibson Guitar products last fall. Federal agents investigated Gibson’s factories after Gibson was suspected of using illegally logged ebony and rosewood from Madagascar, and unfinished wood from India. Conservative politicians have argued that American companies shouldn’t be punished for violating laws in other countries.

Now, the new “Relief Act,” introduced by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), aims to amend the Lacey Act, exempting some materials and easing penalties. The House will vote on the bill next month. If it passes, it will make it even harder for consumers to know where the wood in their new furniture came from.

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