Battle of Bugs Goes Global

March 1, 2001
The U.S., the European Union, Canada, Japan and China are being bugged by problem pallets.

Battle of Bugs Goes Global

The battle of the bugs continues. I received an e-mail, then a follow-up call, from a source within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the European Union’s (EU) emergency phytosanitary regulations to be imposed on coniferous solid wood packing material from the U.S., Canada, Japan and China.

Twice now (January 1999 and May 2000) I’ve written about problems bugging wooden pallet users. First there was the Asian cerambycid beetle from China and the destruction it was doing to U.S. forests.

Then there was retaliation by China and its directives regarding importation of solid wood packing material from the U.S. in fear of the pinewood nematode.

As with most wars, what started this current battle is small, confusing and controversial. The microscopic pinewood nematode, indigenous to the U.S., lives in wood and is spread by a beetle. It has appeared in Portugal and is causing concern in Europe.

Currently, regulations being finalized by the EU cover coniferous material — primarily pallets, crates and spools. Apparently dunnage and bracing material are not affected.

Europe has had regulations against the nematode for a long time. The importing country is usually responsible for enforcement of these regulations.

The expected EU emergency regulations closely follow the International Standard for Solid Wood Packing Material currently being developed by the International Plant Protection Convention, a unit of the United Nations. Industry representatives, including the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), have indicated they prefer to implement a program that conforms with the expected international standards rather than implement changes for the European emergency regulation, then make more changes during the following 12 months to comply with international standards.

It looks like it will be September or October before anything of substance will happen. Here are some important things about the new requirements all users of pallets and crating material will have to keep in mind if you ship products to Europe:

• You must use kiln-dried wood with less than 20 percent moisture achieved through a heat treatment of 56C for 30 minutes.

• The wood must also display an official mark (yet to be described) making the wood traceable to its treatment location or manufacturer.

• And although it’s kind of vague, it appears the regulation will permit material that has been treated with chemical pressure impregnation. Evidently, the EU will allow any chemical impregnation process that is internationally recognized.

At this writing (early February) I’ve not seen the regulations, but my source says the EU has advised the USDA that the regulation will also allow wood products that have been fumigated. Which fumigants will be permitted has not been specified. But this wood, too, will require a stamp so the product can be traced to its point of manufacture.

The international plant-based products community is aware of the need for regulations and restrictions. Bugs are part and parcel of its products. On a global basis, these pallet regulations are not yet on the radar screen, but it looks like hard and soft woods will be covered, not just coniferous products.

USDA is currently working with the American Lumber Standards Committee, various lumber grading agencies and the NWPCA to come up with a program for implementing the new regulations.

To keep up with this program, your best source for information is, the Web site of NWPCA. It has regular postings, and it has Bob Peters, its technical resources director, to let you know what’s bugging the pallet industry.

Clyde E. Witt

executive editor

[email protected]

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