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Major Incident Causes Changes in Canadian WPM System, Edmonton Pallet Manufacturer Kicked Out of Program
The first major public incident involving a participant in the Canadian ISPM-15 heat treatment program found to be in violation of critical procedures has raised questions about problems with the Canadian program.
Date Posted: 2/1/2012
The first major public incident involving a participant in the Canadian ISPM-15 heat treatment program found to be in violation of critical procedures has raised questions about problems with the Canadian program. The investigation discovered that Lonestar Lumber of Edmonton, Canada had mis-marked pallets as ISPM-15 compliant when in reality the pallets were made from non-HT lumber and were never heat treated when assembled. The company in question claimed it was an accident although new suspicion has arisen after a subsequent surprise inspection discovered new non-compliance, which led the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to revoke the license of the Edmonton-based firm.
The incident has brought to the surface some major differences between the U.S. and Canadian programs as both countries work toward imposing ISPM-15 standards on solid wood packaging crossing their shared border. It appears that the Canadian Wood Pallet & Container Association (CWPCA), which administers the wood packaging program in Canada, is working with CFIA to fix problems, such as increasing oversight and allowing for surprise inspections.
The Lonestar incident brought to the surface some major differences between the U.S. program and the Canadian system. Inspections are required at a minimum of 12 times per year in the United States. After the initial year in CWPCP, manufacturers (not kilns) are inspected twice a year. Matt McGowan, the WPM coordinator for Timber Products Inspection, said that the opportunity exists for a greater problem to develop in Canada because it has less timely inspections than the requirements in the United States. He said that he was not aware of any similar incident in the U.S. where a previously compliant company made this mistake and didn’t catch it much earlier.
Another concern is that until this incident occurred, most inspections in Canada were announced ahead of time giving pallet companies up to two weeks to prepare for a site visit, according to Bill Eggertson, executive director of the CWPCA. In contract, all the inspections in the United States are unannounced. Eggertson commented that records showed much of the employee training took place sometime during the two weeks before an inspection took place. One of the positive outcomes from this whole incident is that the CWPCP now has the authority and discretion to conduct more unannounced inspections. Eggertson said that Canadian inspectors would be doing more unannounced visits from now on to improve the effectiveness of inspections.
The government is less involved in the U.S. system where the American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) and individual certification agencies can take strong actions against violators. The ALSC oversees the U.S. program while individual plant audits and monitoring is conducted by 20 different accreditation agencies. Both the ALSC and the agencies have the right to suspend a stamp, impose tougher monitoring requirements, and sue for copyright infringement. The only time you have to involve government authorities in the U.S. system is when someone is thought to have violated fraud laws by deliberately copying a stamp and applying it to untreated packaging. Even then, only federal authorities are brought in if criminal prosecution is to be sought as a remedy.
Eggertson explained how the Canadian program works. He said, “The CWPCP doesn’t have regulatory powers. Only the federal authorities have the ability to change the program, impose fines or suspend or cancel a mark.”
Tom Searles, the president of the ALSC, said that it is important to determine if someone knowingly violated the standards or simply made a mistake. He explained that fines were only imposed in those rare cases where it could be demonstrated that the offending party acted with malicious intent. He said that in a very few instances companies have lost their marks for good. But this rarely occurred because most companies don’t want to risk losing their ability to be part of the program and will eventually comply. Searles said, “There is no 1-2-3 system or approach. You examine the facts and act appropriately to fit the circumstances.”
Searles added, “The idea is to keep companies in the program and to make them do it right.”
Some parts of the Canadian program may be better than the U.S. approach. For example, you can visit the CWPCA website and see a list of all the certified companies and their mark numbers if you want to verify participation in the program. The ALSC does not do this in the United States because the mark number is tied to the certification agency and the WPM producer. There is concern that providing a list of all the mark numbers would make it easy for certification agencies to pilfer each others customers. Also, there is a fear that this list could be used to facilitate mark fraud for someone bent on misappropriating a mark.
The CWPCA which operates the Canadian Wood Packaging Certification Program (CWPCP) acts much like an inspection agency does in the United States. But this can lead to some conflicts of interest because the CWPCA has to be the cop, the industry spokesman and lobbyist, and advocate for the interests of its association members.
CWPCA has walked this tight rope well, but it appears to be an ever shifting target. Brian Butler, chair of the CWPCA Packaging Committee, said, “The CWPCA and the CFIA are bound, by law, to maintain confidentiality regarding the business information of all CWPCP clients.”
Butler added, “In the matter of this recent non-compliance (the first of its kind in the history of the CWPCP), the client has been accorded due process. I believe that, given the due course of time and the improved inspection procedures, the matter has been concluded satisfactorily. The facility’s status within the CWPCP has been canceled.”
It is not clear what exactly will happen if Lonestar Lumber tries to re-apply under another corporate identity or attempts to be certified under the Canadian Heat Treated Wood Products Certification Program (CHTWPCP), which is a more stringent program aimed at primarily lumber producers. CFIA has the ultimate authority and could decide to reject Lonestar Lumber under any of the programs it oversees for a particular period of time or indefinitely.
In Canada the individual inspection agencies cannot reject a submission unlike the broad powers that U.S. counterparts have.
Gordon Hughes, the former CWPCA executive and an industry consultant, commented, “Let us hope the CWPCA and CFIA get together and agree on some basic responsibilities. The CWPCA should have greater power to suspend and punish companies that experience numerous non-conformance due to the lack of training or simply oversight.”
It isn’t all bad news. This recent incident has led to positive reform in the Canadian system and more may be on its way. Butler wrote, “The CWPCP has been working in cooperation with the CFIA to continuously improve the inspection and enforcement process. The inspection process and communication between CFIA, CWPCA and industry has been improved dramatically over the past three years...The CWPCP is working well; the inspection process is stronger than it has ever been and the enforcement process has proven to be successful.”