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A Scientific Perspective: Expert Voices Opinion on Phytosanitary Challenges And Standards
Pallet Enterprise interviews Dr. Eric Allen, a leading scientific expert on phytosanitary issues for solid wood packaging.

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 3/1/2006

††† Several years ago, most pallet companies and lumber producers had never heard of the word, ďphytosanitary.Ē Now, it is hard to escape it for those dealing with solid wood packaging. Plant health and the concern over invasive species have led to the development of a voluntary international standard.

††† The science behind current plant health standards is anything but easy. It requires in-depth knowledge of biology, entomology and treatment methods. Then you throw in economics and international diplomacy. All of this creates
a potentially difficult situation, but scientists, governments and industry around the world appear to be rising to the occasion.

††† One of the scientific minds in the middle of the issue is Dr. Eric Allen with the Pacific Forestry Centre in Canada. Dr. Allen has been involved as a member of the International Forestry Quarantine Research Group. He has helped pioneer the development of current heat treatment requirements and is researching issues that will impact the next generation of phytosanitary standards.†††††††††††††

††† Staff from the Pallet Enterprise had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Allen in Victoria, British Columbia at the recent Interpal meeting. A full scale interview was conducted over the phone. It covers issues like the legal challenges to the U.S. standard, emerging technologies, the debarking debate, and the scientific basis for current treating methods.Enjoy the following insights from one of the most thoughtful scientific voices on the global phytosanitary issue.

Pallet Enterprise: Environmental groups and state government have criticized the current approved treatment methods claiming that they are not 100% effective. I understand that you were particularly involved in developing the 56/30 heat treatment standard. Please respond to the critics of the current methods and explain how scientists came up with them.

Eric Allen: Scientists developed the heat treatment standard for wood packaging after looking at literature about various processes and conducting additional research. There is never enough information when it comes to science. But the body of evidence substantiated that we would be able to kill most insect and fungal species with the 56 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes (56/30) heat treatment standard.

††† The purpose of the standard was never to kill everything but to reduce risk. There is a balance achieved between treatment effectiveness and economic concerns. And of course, if a treatment method is improperly applied, it will
not be as effective as if it were done

††† What is a good enough job? Well, the adopted standard significantly reduces the risk of pests moving around the world. This includes the major pest risks, such as the pinewood nematode and the Asian longhorned beetle.

Pallet Enterprise: Critics of the current standard claim that some pests can deep burrow into the wood and survive despite treatment. Is this a significant concern?

Eric Allen: Remember, 56/30 is the temperature to be reached in the core of the wood. The outer body of wood is treated at a higher temperature for a longer period of time to get the core to the correct temperature. So the bug canít escape us. The 56/30 treatment method completely solves the problem of deep wood boring organisms. When it comes to fumigation with methyl bromide, the chemical penetrates well to about four inches from the outside of the wood. Therefore the maximum effective size of lumber is 8 inches thick, but most wood packaging is of a much smaller dimension.

Pallet Enterprise: Has anyone developed ways to get around the environmental concerns associated with methyl bromide?

Eric Allen: Brazil has developed fairly sophisticated methyl bromide recovery systems. The chemical is collected, reused and not released to the outside environment. Methyl bromide fumigation has become fairly commonplace in South America. The industry down there has worked to pioneer safer technologies for methyl bromide since it depends on chemical use so much.

Pallet Enterprise: What makes the global phytosanitary issue so difficult to manage?

Eric Allen: Invasive species is a global problem. Because it is a global problem, you have to have a global solution for it. The wood packaging issue is a test case for developing truly global standards on a complex economic and scientific issue. I have been trying to think of things in the world that are standardized, and there arenít that many. The measurement of time is in global use, and thankfully there are well accepted international standards on commercial aircraft!

Pallet Enterprise: What are some emerging treatment enhancements or new technologies that may impact the market in the future?

Eric Allen: Scientists and researchers have been looking at a broad range of emerging treatment technology. These include: radiation/microwave, additional fumigants, and modified atmosphere. Researchers in Italy are doing experiments with microwaves that look very promising right now.

††† The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is the regulatory body for global plant health standards. And it has created a technical panel to develop criteria for evaluating emerging technology. You canít just say that this treatment method kills this one pest and so it will kill everything. Tree species have different densities. You have to test to prove that a method is effective against many different pests in various tree species. While you canít test everything, experts are trying to decide what must be proven before a treatment method can be approved by the IPPC.

Pallet Enterprise: Some in the industry have raised the issue of mold on wood packaging. Is mold a phyto≠sanitary issue worth being considered when it comes to invasive species?

Eric Allen: Mold is a point of confusion among some people. The phytosanitary standard deals with plant health risk and most mold fungi are of little to no risk to plants and trees.

††† Lumber is susceptible to colorization of mold fungi. This is a quality or appearance issue that wood has to deal with, but it is not necessarily a phytosanitary concern.

Pallet Enterprise: What is your opinion on the bark issue? What is likely to happen?

Eric Allen:There are at least ten studies going on right now around the world on this issue. The main concern is whether or not wood with bark can be re-infested after treatement. Actually, this is a misnomer; it should be called secondary infestation because re-infestation assumes that the wood packaging was infested originally before treatment. This is difficult if not impossible to prove.

††† The International Forestry Quarantine Research Group (IFQRG) met in December to review the available scientific data and arrived at two main conclusions.Simply put, wood with bark treated under ISPM-15 requirements could be infested by pests that are of phytosanitary concern.However, when wood packaging at ports was examined, a relatively low percentage of treated material with bark was found to harbor pests.More details of this analysis are posted on the IFQRG website (www.forestry-quarantine.org).The research group also considered additional research that could help clarify the debarking issue.

Pallet Enterprise: Why has there been so much controversy over the science involved in the debarking debate?

Eric Allen: Studies have been done in a range of different conditions from outside in forested areas to lab settings. Research is limited by time, money, biology and other factors. None of the studies were done using solid wood packaging sitting in a barren dockyard. Some have criticized the research because it does not reflect real world conditions. Well, those who outright dismiss these studies could miss valuable lessons that we could learn from them.

††† You can always find something that doesnít seem adequate in scientific research.

Pallet Enterprise: Does the debarking issue really come down to a matter of science or politics?

Eric Allen: I donít know the answer to this. Who really decides what happens?I guess that countries decide what to do and then negotiate with each other. There is no judge and jury.

††† Scientists met in December to evaluate the scientific data on the debarking issue. We have attempted to provide a summary of scientific info and not provide clear-cut phytosanitary advice or develop policy.That job is left to the National Plant Protection Agencies of individual countries.The big-picture analysis of the debarking question will also be looked at by the Technical Panel on Forestry Quarantine, an official panel of the International Plant Protection Convention.

††††††††††††††† The scientific method is the best option we have if used properly. You donít just guess and try to attach scientific reason to your assertions. Anyone who goes into a research project trying to prove something is running the risk of biasing their interpretation of the results. That is a dangerous way to do science. The key is to start out asking the right questions.

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