Exterminate Pests in Your Chain

April 1, 2004
Politics is holding back implementation of important legislation.

I've written on this subject of insect infestation a number of times in the past few years. Once again, it's time to bring you the news on the bug issue and the apparent foot-dragging by our politicians that has the potential for disaster here in America. If our leaders are truly concerned about homeland security, there are some small issues with six legs that could have a devastating impact on our natural resources.

Other countries are seeing the potential for danger in insect invasions via solid wood packaging material. So, why don't our politicians? The Peoples Republic of China, Korea and the European Union have notified the World Trade Organization of their intent to adopt measures in line with the International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM15).

If you think the bug issue is just a pesky little mosquito problem, let me direct your attention to a great, telling story in Discover magazine, January 2004. Writer Elizabeth Svoboda has a piece on the recent devastation of Christmas Island, Australia, when an invasion of yellow crazy ants (that's their name, not my editorial comment) got to the island in packaging material (or the shipping process, as she says) from India. It took a while, but the ant population exploded and swarms of the little creatures ate the indigenous crabs, which in turn ... Well, read the sad story of havoc. Ecologist Dennis O'Dowd is quoted in the story as saying, "Once invaders are in, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove them."

To our credit, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the Department of Agriculture has entered into a memorandum of understanding with both the American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC) and the National Wood Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) to oversee the official programs of heat treatment or fumigation and the marking of the material. (For information as well as details pertaining to heat treatment and marking requirements, contact ALSC at 301-972-1700 . For details pertaining to fumigation and marking requirements, contact NWPCA at 703-519-6104.)

The path to finalization and adoption of this rule has had more ups and downs, and taken more twists and turns, than the Appalachian Trail. The last target date we had for implementation of the rule was January. Well, I hope you didn't bet a lot of money on that date -- either. My sources tell me the date is being "adjusted," and we'll be lucky if it happens in April or May.

I have no doubt that the ruling for fumigation and heat treatment of solid wood packaging material is going to happen. APHIS is encouraging all importers to meet the conditions of ISPM 15, which requires that all wood packaging material be appropriately treated and marked under an official program developed and overseen by the National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) in the country of export.

Whether we're talking about yellow crazy ants or Asian longhorned beetles, the end result can be the same; just ask the people in Illinois and New York who have watched their trees cut in an attempt to stall the black-and-white invader in its tracks. I should say unsuccessful attempts. You can't hear the sound of its footsteps, yet the beetle marches on.

Quarantines, as O'Dowd notes in the Discover magazine piece, keep potentially invasive species from crossing boarders.

Don't wait for the politicos to get the rules in place. Switch, now, to heated or treated pallets and packaging material. Investigate the use of alternatives to solid wood such as plastic, metal, pressed wood and other forms of engineered wood.

Earth Day started 33 years ago to shake up the political establishment. Forget the banners and hoopla. Celebrate Earth Day on the 22nd of this month by really doing something for the Earth.

Clyde E. Witt, executive editor, [email protected]

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