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Phytosanitary standards

The Asian longhorned beetle and the emerald ash borer are just two non-native insects that have invaded Canadian forests (including urban woodlands) and that are thought to have arrived in wood packaging from other countries. Raw wood packaging, such as untreated pallets and crates, is an ideal haven for such insects, which survive in the wood and then establish themselves in their new home territories.

The movement of exotic pests is hardly a one-way voyage. North American insects, like the red turpentine beetle, have made their way to other regions via materials manufactured from infested wood. Many invasive alien species have been introduced into other parts of the world in this way.

Recognizing that the spread of exotic pests can pose a serious threat, the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM) developed ISPM 15, a global standard for how to treat wood packaging to ensure it’s at low risk of harbouring pests. The standard, adopted in 2002 and revised in 2009, allows for two treatments: heat or fumigation using methyl bromide.

The ISPM 15 standard was not drawn up by regulators alone. According to the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, plant protection regulations must be based on solid science. ISPM 15 drew on existing research, some of it from Canadian bodies that address alien species, including the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). ISPM 15 was also modelled on the North American Plant Protection Organization’s solid wood packaging standard, developed earlier under the guidance of a study group from the North American Forestry Commission.

Since ISPM 15 was adopted, the standard-setting process has benefitted from the input of an independent scientific advisory group. The International Forestry Quarantine Research Group, as it’s known, brings together more than 40 scientists from around the world, who provide CPM drafting teams with scientific advice and research.

Chaired by a Canadian from CFS, the international research group is currently investigating alternatives to the methyl bromide treatment, which has raised concerns because of evidence that it depletes the ozone layer. The group’s analysis and research will also help the team that’s drafting new international standards for wood commodities, forest tree seed and other products.

Canada and the international community will continue to monitor pest movement, looking for new pathways that pests may follow and seeking science-based solutions. CFS and CFIA are leading this work in Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian forest sector and organizations involved in import and export activities.

“In the latest revision of ISPM 15, there were concerns about bark residing on wood packaging after treatment. Bark may harbour insects; the question was, how much bark is a problem? We know that a piece of bark the size of a bedsheet is more likely to be infested with wood pests than a piece the size of your fingernail. But where’s the line?

“The scientists in the International Forestry Quarantine Research Group designed experiments that were conducted in a number of countries which clarified how much bark is a problem. From that research, it was possible for the CPM drafting group to establish provisions for bark tolerance in the new ISPM 15.”

—Dr. Eric Allen, Canadian Forest Service, Chair of the International Forestry Quarantine Research Group

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