Author: John Shawyer is Director of Associated Pallets
Under the current International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM 15), wooden packaging materials such as pallets and crates that are transported into the European Union or exported from Portugal need to be heat-treated to eliminate all risks of pest and bacteria contamination. (Portugal is a recognised pinewood nematode – pine wilting disease – region.)
The European Commission is in the process of reviewing an extension to these regulations that will require all wood packaging moving within EU member states also to be heat-treated. If accepted by EU member governments, this regulation could come into force by 2015 at the latest.
An extension of wood packaging regulations has major cost implications for the European wood packaging industry. Additional heat treatment is bound to increase the costs of wooden pallets and crates. However, the industry also needs to invest more in providing heat-treatment facilities as there is a serious shortage of such plants within the EU to meet the expected demand created by a regulatory extension.
Sticking to Science
In a November 2008 position paper on the possible regulatory extension, the European Federation of Wooden Pallet and Package Manufacturers (FEFPEB) said it would take several years for the industry to adapt to the new measures, especially because of the lack of heat-treatment capacity in Europe. The organisation added that the scientific evidence for such an extension should be conclusive enough to justify the adverse economic and environmental consequences of such an extension.
The European Commission at first planned for the extension to come into effect in June 2009, but it has been postponed a number of times until 2015, usually in response to FEFPEB lobbying.
Global Organisation Needed
Delegates to the FEFPEB’s 64th Congress in September 2013 acknowledged that the industry should organise to deal with regulations that are increasingly being drafted and decided at global levels. This means a worldwide organisation that could negotiate with bodies such as the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) in a coordinated manner.
The Congress offered five possible options for the regulatory extension: deregulation, meaning that there would be no rules whatsoever; a rapid introduction of regulations for all wood packaging materials sometime in 2015; rapid introduction of new regulations only for new and repaired wood packaging materials; a rapid introduction of new regulations only for high-risk wood packaging material; the general introduction of the regulations only after five years.
Since the adoption of ISMP15, the process of setting standards has been assisted by a variety of scientific inputs, in particular by the Rome-based International Forestry Quarantine Research Group (IFQRG). This body serves both as a scientific adviser to the IPPC and as a discussion forum on phytosanitary issues for scientists and the wood packaging industry. However, it tends to work on a regional rather than a global basis.
ISPM 15 compliant wood pallets still dominate the export pallet market due to their price point and value proposition. Increasingly, however, export shippers are shifting from solid wood to alternative materials such as plastic, presswood or corrugated paper. Although alternative material pallets are typically more expensive than comprable wood pallets, they offer relieve from the risk of possible detention related to phytosanitary regulation enforcement.