The Next Challenge

September 3, 2019

Last month we featured information about Australia’s new import requirements on certain Canadian products along with some information about the requirements for wood packaging.  Judging from the amount of calls and emails that we have received on this topic; these new import measures have hit home for many of you.  As of writing this, we have received no word of any issues associated with wood packaging entering Australia, and hopefully that will continue.

I have been thinking much about this recently, and quite frankly, the more I do, the more that I feel we as an industry need to understand more about the type of insect behind the seasonal measures taken by Australia and why it is such a big deal.  Not specifically the species, but the types of insects that travel by way of “hitchhiking” on goods being shipped around the world.  These types of insects may lay eggs or take up residence in or on a variety of articles prior to being shipped.  Typically, the insects do not pose much risk to the article to which they are attached, but become troublesome once they are introduced to a new environment.

In April of this year I was asked to be part of a committee working under the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO), to establish inspection guidelines for these hitchhikers, also known as contaminating pests.  The group has met several times now, and is beginning to make some headway on the project.  It is great to be involved in such a committee as we can ensure that the best interests of the wood packaging industry are considered, but it has brought to light some challenges that we may face down the road.

ISPM-15 was developed to mitigate the risk of spreading invasive wood boring pests around the world.  According to most people I communicate with, it has proven to be a very effective tool in preventing the spread of those wood boring pests

internationally. However, as long as global trade exists, so too does the threat of spreading contaminating pests via many different goods.  Unfortunately, and incorrectly, wood continues to be a target from some people who do not delineate the difference between wood boring pests and those that simply “hitch a ride”, and are generally not too picky about their host.

Recently, a broadcast from Australia was brought to my attention, and it can be heard by following this link.

I strongly urge you to take fifteen minutes and have a listen.  Aside from all of the anti-wood propaganda, it is interesting to note that of the insects mentioned in this interview, only ONE is a wood boring pest targeted by ISPM-15.  The others (Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, ants, etc) are contaminating pests, which are non-selective in nature and will travel on just about any surface, not just wood.  Part of the messaging in the interview is (incorrectly) that plastic is safer than wood when it comes to preventing the spread of contaminating pests as well as wood borers.   Listening to this took me back to a presentation by speaker Leigh Greenwood from the Nature Conservancy at our AGM in Victoria.  Leigh pointed out very directly that the design of some plastic pallets, and those made from other materials, is such that they may actually provide a BETTER host surface for these contaminating pests to travel on as, due to the nature of their construction, they may provide hollow areas or protected crevices for contaminating pests to hide. However, as we can hear in the above-mentioned interview, not everyone agrees.

If there is a bright spot in this, it is that we as an industry have already been through the implementation of ISPM-15 and understand the realities associated with building a phytosanitary quality systems program.  As such, we can be looked to as the subject matter experts with regards to these programs.  It is hoped that we will continue to play a big role in helping to set standards and lend our expertise in order to develop a course of action that will perhaps lead to a program like ISPM-15 aimed at these contaminating pests. 

In the meantime, however, we still need to be diligent and aware of not only the problem, but the negative optic that the uninformed will continue to cast on wood packaging.  We must be prepared to answer the bell with well informed and scientifically supported data that shows that wood is in fact no more prone to contaminating pests than any other material, and that ISPM-15 works. We must continue to strive to ensure the phytosanitary safety of our wood packaging by maintaining the highest standards possible, and also be aware of the threats and incorrect information being used to cast wood packaging in a negative light.  Our work on the committee will continue, as will discussions surrounding the sensitivities related to contaminating pests between our sister organizations and groups like our Global Wood Packaging Forum, which consists of industry representatives from over ten countries who meet to discuss issues that face the industry around the globe.


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