A series of hearings looking into the possibility of more regulation of wooden pallets that could harbor pests were well attended, said a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services official.

The meetings — five in all, scheduled over four days in four U.S. cities — were designed to discuss measures to decrease the risk of pests in wood packaging material, including pallets used for shipping fresh produce.

“We had good turnouts, probably averaging about 50 (per meeting). We had about 40 in Houston and 60 in Grand Rapids (Mich.),” said Paul Chaloux, APHIS national program manager for dealing with the emerald ash borer, one of two pests (the other being the Asian longhorned beetle) known to transport on wooden packaging materials.

“We had anywhere from 1-2 dozen participants provide comment at each meeting, and a range of solutions were offered,” Chaloux said.

Representatives from the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, Alexandria, Va., attended the meetings. Bruce Scholnick, president of the NWPCA, said his organization proposes that the U.S. adopt “International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures 15,” which requires all wood packaging to be heat treated or fumigated, and then marked for product traceability.

Scholnick said in the five years since the measures were adopted by more than 140 nations, they have proven nearly 100% effective.

“I think the consensus is, everyone is for the implementation of a domestic standard,” Scholnick said. “Hopefully, we’ll move forward as quickly as possible.”

Chaloux said APHIS published an advance notice of proposed rule-making in the Aug. 26 Federal Register. The comment period is scheduled to close Oct. 26.

“We’ll then take that information, information from the public meetings, comments and internal issues and review it and enter into decision making (regarding) options,” Chaloux said.

Whether an official regulation is in the near future is up in the air at this point, he said.

“Any timetable is very open at this point,” Chaloux said. “Deliberateness is well-advised in this case, I believe.”

In another development, Orlando-based Intelligent Global Pooling Systems, a rental service of plastic pallets, reported it had samples of wood pallets tested by Environmental Systems Services, Bedford, Va., for presence of harmful pathogens. One-third of the pallets tested positive for salmonella, E. coli and/or listeria.

In September, iGPS sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking for an investigation into the safety of wood pallets used to ship foods.