Are some US paper suppliers violating the Lacey Act?

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Are some US paper suppliers violating the Lacey Act?

February 21, 2011 - 23:46
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NEW YORK, Feb. 22, 2011 (RISI) -Pulp and paper may soon be a new target of potential violations of the U.S. Lacey Act. Since the 2008 amendment to the Act, expanding the range of plants and plant products to be protected, concern in the industry has focused heavily on solid wood products. Imported timber, flooring and furniture have been tops on the watch lists, and buyers, suppliers, and customers of these types of products worked quickly to implement certification and/or processes to stay within compliance. Paper, in comparison, has not been such a high priority, mainly due to the complexity of the pulp and paper production. This may soon change with new detection methods and an increase in enforcement actions.

Enforcement has been the biggest sticking point to whether the Lacey Act can bring real change to the industry. Despite front-page splashes of seizures from Gibson Guitars and a shipment of lumber from Peru in Tampa, Florida, there has been little other news. But a lack of coverage does not mean officials are not looking. For one, there are at least three different U.S. agencies responsible for investigating potential violations: the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the U.S. Dept. of Interior Fish and Wildlife Services, and Customs and Border Protection under the Dept. of Homeland Security. For another, all of the enforcement delays on the amended Lacey Act expired in 2010, meaning there will be no room for excuses in 2011.

The breadth of the language in the amended Lacey Act has been one other point of concern. From nearly all standpoints, any violation of the Lacey Act, whether knowingly or unknowingly, can lead to criminal and civil penalties, indicating illegally sourced wood in imported pulp or paper could be marked as a potential violation. According to an FAQ from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a non-profit, non-government environmental organization, "A paper company uses pulp sourced from illegal logging practices and exports finished paper product to the United States," is a scenario cited as a specific example.

Any violation of the Lacey Act, knowingly or unknowingly, can lead to criminal and civil penalties

Off the shelf

Pulp and paper present specific risks for violations of the Lacey Act because of the difficulty in knowing the origin of the sourced wood. In a November 2010 article, the World Resources Institute (WRI) reported on a study looking at whether a variety of consumer paper products contained any violations. Fiber testing was used to look at 32 different imported paper products, from stationary to tissue paper to books. All of the products were purchased from stores or outlets in the U.S. The products were sent to an independent laboratory in a blind study, and no manufacturers names were released in the study.

Fiber testing is a well-established technology used in the pulp and paper industry, and has also been used by other environmental groups to look at potential Lacey Act violations. In 2010, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Rainforest Action Network reported on studies using fiber testing done on books imported into the U.S. Both studies indicate a significant number of the books were found to contain illegally sourced wood and would constitute a potential violation. While these books were printed and bound in foreign countries, and not necessarily directly for sale in the U.S., the WRI study went one step further, looking at the pulp and paper before the printing and binding process began.

The results of the WRI study indicated that 3 of the 32 products had suspiciously harvested fibers. All three of the potentially violating products were books, as in the previous studies. According to the study, two of the books contained "vessels with anatomical features consistent with those of ramin," an internationally protected tree. The third book was found to have fibers consistent with those of mangrove trees, protected from harvest under Indonesian laws. These results also indicate that the printing and binding process did not deface the fiber enough to rule out identification through fiber testing.

Due care

In conclusion, the WRI report said that "all three of these books potentially violate the 2008 amendment to the U.S. Lacey Act, which prohibit trade within the United States of products made from plants that are harvested in contrary to international law or the law of their countries of origin. "Since 2008, it has been illegal to import, export, transport, sell, receive, or purchase such plant products - including pulp and paper - in the United States. "All actors in the supply chain, including importers, publishers, and retailers can be liable under Lacey. Penalties can include forfeiture of goods and fines of up to $500,000 and jail time."

An underlying violation of the Lacey Act can occur at any step along the supply chain, making it imperative for pulp and paper companies to continue their efforts to protect themselves. The WRI offered the following examples companies can take to exhibit the "due care" required to remain compliant under the Lacey Act:

1. Ask questions - maintaining as much information about the supply chain could head off potential violations.

2. Assess risk and respond according - if the risks associated with an associated region or sources is too high, consider a different source.

3. Adopt a comprehensive forest products purchasing policy - setup by many companies already, this could go a long way in establishing due care in a potential violation.

4. Purchase certified paper - third-party certification programs are important, but illegal sources can still slip through.

5. Conduct periodic fiber testing - another procedure maintained by many companies, but should be expanded to more than just quality control.

In a follow-up Q&A to the study, the WRI also stressed some of the limits of fiber testing. The results of testing may be able to determine the fiber's genus or species, indicating if it is a protected species, but not necessarily the country of origin. Testing may also show fiber from plantation-grown trees, but not whether those plantations are well managed or poorly managed. Fibers from natural tropical forests can be readily identified by testing and may indicate an illegal source, but recycled paper may pose other difficulties.

To read the complete article on the WRI study, gohere

Ken Norris is a US based contributing editor to PPI magazine and the RISI community website and can be contacted at: knorris@quintstrategies.com