The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will hold a series of public meetings to discuss measures to decrease the risk of pests in wood packaging material, including pallets used for shipping fresh produce.

USDA to hold meetings on mitigating pests in wood packaging

Chris Koger

In July 2006, new protocols mandated wood pallets arriving in the U.S. must be heat treated. Each pallet is stamped with a date to notify importers when it was treated. This is a Chep pallet at a Culiacan, Mexico-based tomato shipper.

Five meetings are scheduled to be held on four days in four U.S. cities. The first of four meetings concerning wood packaging material is scheduled for 9 a.m.-noon eastern time Aug. 27 in Washington D.C. Later that afternoon, a separate meeting will commence in Washington D.C. that will discuss the creation of a federal firewood strategy to mitigate the pest risks associated with the movement of firewood within the country.

The other three meetings regarding wood packaging material will be held Sept. 2 in Portland, Ore., Sept. 15 in Houston and Sept. 29 in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Paul Chaloux of APHIS said the meetings would deal primarily with two pests known to transport on wooden packaging materials and which pose a great threat to U.S. agriculture and to natural, cultivated and urban forests — the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle. And that transport is aided greatly when those materials are moved around the country by those shipping goods, Chaloux said.

“We as an agency are interested at looking at ways to make sure these pests do no more damage,” said Chaloux, the national emerald ash borer program manager with APHIS. “These pests tend to move around slowly on their own, but humans can spread them more quickly. We’re interested in collecting thoughts to develop a comprehensive strategy.”

Chaloux said, at this point, his agency is not proposing any type of rule, like the one enacted in February 2003 which requires heat treatment or methyl bromide fumigation on any wooden pallets imported into the country.

According to the Aug. 17 Federal Register, topics for discussion at the meetings will include, but not be limited to, the magnitude of pest risks associated with wooden packaging materials moving interstate, compliance standards, use of alternative materials such as processed wood or plastics, environmental impacts and costs.

Bruce Scholnick, president of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, Alexandria, Va., said he welcomed the meetings and USDA involvement.

“As an industry, we want to take the position of, regulate us,” Scholnick said. “I know Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan started a quarantine two years ago because of the emerald ash borer. The whole issue of non-native invasive species has been ongoing. If we treat wood packaging materials, kill invasive species … it would be good for international shipping.

“Regulate us. That way, there will be no need for quarantine of any sort.”

Chaloux said there currently are 13 states where infestation of emerald ash borer has been detected. There are 200,000 square miles of quarantined area.

Scholnick said he approached APHIS 2 ½ years ago on a monthly basis to ask what the hold-up was in forming regulations.

“These hearings are finally the next step toward putting regulations in place,” he said. “What we hope happens is that wood will be regulated so that all wooden pallets are required to be treated no matter where they’re traveling, whether it’s across the U.S. border or across state lines.”

Scholnick said he’ll give testimony at the first meeting in Washington D.C. Other active members of the NWPCA will give testimony at other meetings, Scholnick said.