In 2009, a report prepared for the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers estimated that the introduction and establishment of four high-profile invasive forest insects and diseases cost Canada $165 million annually; a cost that could have been avoided by preventing their introduction and establishment. The establishment of alien invasive and aggressive forest pests has been on the rise with the growth in international trade causing significant, and sometimes devastating, economic and environmental damage. The science of phytosanitary measures to contain the threat of plant pests and diseases is a challenging, but crucial undertaking to allow for smooth flowing global trade with minimal risks from invasive species.
The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) provides a common framework for mitigating phytosanitary risk from international trade. Wood pallets, dunnage, and containers and boxes in which goods travel were among the forest products that initially stood out for pest risk, requiring attention and regulation. International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15, or ISPM 15, directly addresses the threat posed by wood packaging and the need for treatment. “Typically constructed of lower quality wood that can originate from anywhere in the world, wood packaging can be infected with a variety of pests that treatments must safeguard against,” explains Dr. Adnan Uzunovic, Principal Scientist and Mycologist with FPInnovations’ Sustainable Construction group.
When ISPM 15 was first adopted in 2002, only two types of treatments were available for wood packaging: conventional heat treatment and fumigation with methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is being phased out as it is recognized as a cause of ozone depletion. With conventional heating not always feasible from an economic, material tolerance, or time sensitivity perspective, much of the ongoing international research activity has been devoted to finding new treatment options. Dielectric heating by microwave/radio frequency is one such treatment. The collaborative research and data developed by several international groups, including FPInnovations, led to the world-wide adoption of microwave/radiofrequency heating and its official listing in the ISPM -15 annex of approved treatments in 2013.
Promising fumigants to replace methyl bromide are also being investigated including one being explored by FPInnovations. “EDN, or Cyanogen, has already been registered in Australia and soon in New Zealand, and has been tested in other countries,” says Adnan. “We are working with our U.S. colleagues to confirm its efficacy for North American wood species as part of the international collaborative work to support its IPPC adoption.” The team is in the early stages of proving the concept and its effectiveness against pine wood nematode and several pathogenic fungi and insects. If passed, it will take another two to five years to develop the data needed for international review and adoption.
Over the past 12 years, Adnan has been an integral contributor to the IPPC’s development of a rigorous assessment process for new wood packaging phytosanitary treatments. “Traditionally, test methodologies and quarantine statistics relied on pests with large populations that could be created in the lab, such as fruit flies,” explains Adnan. “However, this is not applicable to forest pests with much smaller populations, so it’s necessary to find ways to develop robust quarantine statistics data with lower numbers of pests.”
The new process also includes selecting a representative of eight groups of pests (5 insect families, 2 fungal genera and pine wood nematode) that best characterize the global variety of pests possibly encountered in wood packaging. After initially testing all eight groups, the most tolerant pest and its life cycle stages are determined. The final test phase of the process involves successfully decimating the necessary amount of tolerant pests to satisfy quarantine statistics requirements. This needs to be performed under simulated operational conditions to understand and address issues regarding the delivery of a lethal treatment dose throughout the wood.
Finding processes acceptable to every IPPC signatory country is extremely complex and requires a great deal of time. This can only be accomplished through collaboration under an umbrella of relevant panels of technical experts and input from IPPC. The International Forestry Quarantine Research Group, an advisory group to the IPPC, brings together scientists, regulators and industry and has connected Adnan with a powerhouse team of collaborators. “The Canadian Forest Service, USDA APHIS, and Pennsylvania State University were our invaluable North American partners in developing the new international standardized test methodology and data for new treatments,” states Adnan. In its final phase of adoption, the process for new phytosanitary treatments is now in the hands of the IPPC and its 183 signatory countries for critical review and acceptance. For Adnan and his collaborators, its adoption will be a huge achievement.
With the development of treatments assessed by an approved and manageable standardized process, new treatments will emerge faster and a suite of phytosanitary measures will be made available to trading nations’ industry and regulators. A standardized process allows data from different labs to be utilized and combined to prove to the international community that a new treatment can significantly reduce the risk. Common treatments developed for wood packaging are also used through bilateral agreements for other wood products such as logs and lumber. Often behind the scenes, we must applaud the years of complex discussions and work going into solutions that protect our forests’ health and enable continued, prosperous global trade and economies.
For more information, please contact Adnan Uzunovic.