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New phytosanitary regulations an added wrinkle to shipping art.

  Behind the Scenes

If it’s not phytosanitary,
it might languish in Halifax!


IMAGINE THIS. You are a professional artist accustomed to packing and shipping your work. In August 2006 you decide to import paintings back to Canada which had been in Europe for five years. When the crate arrives in Halifax, there is a call to inform you that the Canada Customs wood expert has placed shipment #265999 “under detention.” There will be “charges for a full exam.”

beetleSeveral phone calls were required to find out what this was about. The artist had his pine and plywood containers made long before July 5, 2006, when the strict rules about the exportation and importation of crates had been put in place by the Canada Food Inspection Agency. The CFIA’s special interest in such matters reflects the Government of Canada’s desire to protect this country from all threats, including those posed to the environment through harmful pests and invasive alien species. Plant materials of all kinds, including wood, are of interest. (Phyto is the Greek word for plant.)

As of the date mentioned above, the government vowed to impound shipments containing wood packaging that did not meet Canadian import requirements.

“Wood packaging must be treated, marked or have a valid Phytosanitary Certificate and be free of living pests.” Shipments showing signs of infestation will be “immediately safeguarded” and “will be refused entry.”

The same standards for Phytosanitary Measures apply for Canada, the United States and Mexico and many other countries are enforcing similar regulations. Detailed information about all aspects of wood packaging regulations; fees regarding the inspection of crates and the disposal of infected wood products can be obtained through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at www.inspection.gc.ca.

Everyone would agree that alien pests are no laughing matter. One would no more wish to export the Western Mountain Pine Beetle that is killing our forests in B.C. to Asia, than one would want to help the Long Horn Beetle that flourishes there, for example, to come here to put our wood in further jeopardy. What seems unfair in this instance is that the mistake over something the painter (and indeed the European shipper) could not have known about (considering a one-month lead time) will cost the artist almost $2,000 more than the crate’s typical trip home would have. This article is an alert to galleries and artists about the newly instituted regulations regarding wooden crates, in the hope that they can avoid costly mistakes.

I have spoken to people in 10 galleries who are involved in international shipping and only a few knew, in detail, about phytosanitary packaging requirements. Ken Stephens of Denbigh Design seemed very familiar with the new rules and has never had trouble at the border with the crates he has constructed. In Vancouver, Can-Crate Industries Limited and Cratex are certified to produce approved packages from appropriately treated materials, as are Artech Inc. in Seattle and Artwork Fine Art Services in Portland. All these businesses have staff professionally trained in this area.

Methods for debugging a crate remind me of the lab-talk in CSI MIAMI where what the “perp” has done to the “vic” is described in gruesome detail. Non-compliant wood packaging can be incinerated, subjected to “deep burial within a period prescribed by an inspector… to a depth of no less than three metres (in a place) that won’t ‘be disturbed.”’ Or it may be subjected to heat treatment, kiln drying, fumigation and/or processing into other wood products like wood dust, wood mulch and wood fuel before it can be declared a non-problem.

Ann Rosenberg is a freelance curator, critic and author.


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