Friday, April 29, 2016

Pest-free logs to China, working safely are top priorities for WSDA inspectors

Scott Brooks
Plant Services Program

WSDA staff conducting inspections at Washington’s busy log export facilities have two goals in mind during their work shift. One is working safely in an often hectic, noisy port environment and the other is to provide our customers with good service.

Environmental specialists with the Plant Services Program recently met in Tacoma to discuss both situations. 

Good customer service means ensuring exported logs are free of prohibited pests for China and other trading partners. Washington supplies more logs to China than any other state. Last year, Plant Services staff certified nearly 245 million board feet of logs to China. A typical log vessel holds about 6 million board feet of logs. The logs are used for construction in China, after being milled into lumber, forms and scaffolding.

Hitchhiking pests
Before the logs leave the port, WSDA inspectors look closely for hitchhiking wood-boring pests, like beetles or Pinewood nematodes. Core samples of the log are collected and analyzed at a WSDA lab in Prosser to test for the nematode, a process required by China. If all goes well, WSDA issues the exporter a phytosanitary certificate for the shipment. Though evidence of bark beetles is not uncommon, Washington logs have always tested negative for the presence of Pinewood nematode.

At the Tacoma meeting, the group reviewed inspection protocols and safety concerns. There can be many things to watch out for at congested port log yards. Logs are stacked into high decks to save space and log moving equipment is constantly sorting, stacking and loading logs throughout the yard. In this environment, it’s important for our inspectors to be seen and stay safe. 

Safety precautions
An orange reflective vest helps, but WSDA also requires that our personnel be escorted during inspections and that log moving equipment cease operations within 100 feet o

f the inspector when they are on site. Inspectors wear hard hats, steel toed boots and carry a cell phone in case they get into trouble.

Besides Tacoma, Plant Services’ staff works at six other ports: Longview, Olympia, Port Angeles, Seattle, Everett and the Port of Grays Harbor. They also are called out to private log yards.

The variety of commodities inspected by Plant Services personnel is extensive and involves logs, lumber, nursery stock, cut greens, grains, hay varieties and many minor specialty crops. Our team is dedicated to work with Washington exporters to assure consistency in applying federal export rules and policy. Working safely and focusing inspections on pests of concern are two major ways WSDA helps keep foreign trade running smoothly.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Training and resources help food processors prevent Listeria contamination

Susie Bautista
Food Safety and Consumer Services Division

Image: CDC PHL#13102, Photographer: James Gathany
Some germs are deadly and can be spread by food, which is why WSDA routinely tests food produced in Washington to check for potential contamination from these germs. 

The germ that prompts the most food recalls for Washington State food processors is Listeria monocytogenes, commonly referred to as Listeria. This germ is one of the leading causes of death from foodborne illness. Older adults, pregnant women, newborns and people with conditions that affect the immune system -- such as those with cancer or AIDS -- are at highest risk for developing illness from Listeria. 

Listeria is widely distributed in the environment and has been found in soil, vegetation, silage, sewage, water, and feces of healthy animals and humans. It’s hardy -- it can grow at refrigeration temperatures and tolerates salt. 

Food processors are particularly concerned with its ability to become established in processing facilities or equipment. Developing control systems can help processors prevent conditions that would allow Listeria to survive in their facilities and possibly contaminate their products.

Here are two important steps food processing companies can take to control Listeria in their facilities:

Controlling Listeria is crucial in reducing incidents of foodborne illness and maintaining public confidence in the food supply. 

The Federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) aims to ensure that food processors take the necessary control steps. Some companies will need to comply with FSMA beginning in September 2016. Food processing companies can prepare for FSMA by attending an upcoming preventive control course in Washington State. These courses are for small to mid-size companies and are in high demand. So register soon at for remaining open slots

Dates and Washington locations for FSMA preventive controls for human foods courses:

Food safety resources as well as updates on courses and workshops in Washington can be found on the Washington State Food Protection Task Force website

By the way, when WSDA determines food is contaminated with germs that can cause human illness, we notify the processor. We coordinate these notifications with our partner food safety agencies. When they learn a product they produced may be contaminated, food processors generally choose to voluntarily recall the product. 

Information on the disease caused by Listeria can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Gypsy moth treatments and the GMO myth

Karla Salp
Pest Program outreach coordinator 

Recent online articles are claiming that our gypsy moth program is using a genetically modified bacteria (GMO bacteria) in our gypsy moth treatments.

For the record: there are no GMO’s in the product we are using for gypsy moth treatments.

It is also not a Monsanto product. The product, Foray 48B, is made by Valent Biosciences and is approved by the USDA’s National Organics Program (NOP) for use in organic agriculture up to and including the day of harvest. The NOP requires natural sources for all ingredients so the product cannot include GMO ingredients.
If you eat organic produce, you have likely consumed Btk, the active ingredient in Foray 48B.

Btk is a naturally occurring soil bacteria that is toxic only to caterpillars. It is not toxic to humans, pets, birds, fish, or bees. It has been used safely for decades. It is available to purchase in most garden centers and many organic gardeners use it in their gardens as well.

It is because of its safety for non-target organisms that we selected this product. We have included multiple links on our website about Btk and human health. You can learn more here on our Btk and human health webpage.

We are extremely confident in the safety of this product. In fact, our own staff stand outside beneath the path of the aircraft in the treatment areas as observers. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has also reviewed the ingredients of Foray 48B and have said it does not pose a public health risk.

Some people may still decide to minimize their exposure to the treatments. For those who wish to do so, the Department of Health suggests that staying inside for 30 minutes after treatment is sufficient to limit your exposure.

Treatment areas

But first see if you are even in or near a treatment area. We have maps available online, including a searchable map that will tell you if you are in, near, or outside the treatment areas. If you are in or near the treatment areas, you can sign up to be notified before treatments occur vie e-mail, robocall or text messages.

It is understandable that people would have questions or concerns when a pesticide is being applied in their neighborhoods. That shouldn’t include worrying about misinformation being spread online.

If you have questions or want more information, visit or call our hotline at 1-800-443-6684.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Pesticide applicators can take steps to reduce drift

Joel Kangiser 
Pesticide Management Division

Farm workers learn about testing pesticide sprayers
As crop planting and growing season gets into full swing, it is peak time for applying pesticides across Washington agriculture country. Pesticide applicators are responsible for assuring that pesticides do not drift off-target. 

Last year, WSDA’s Pesticide Management Division investigated 123 incidents involving potential violations of the state’s pesticide laws and 47 of those involved allegations of pesticides drifting onto neighboring property. So far this year, WSDA has received 11 complaints of pesticide drift and most involve potential human exposure. All are currently being investigated. 

To ensure that pesticides do not drift beyond the intended treatment area, WSDA offers the following suggestions to reduce the risk.
  • Read the label on the pesticides being applied and abide by all precautions and restrictions on safe handling, necessary protective equipment, buffers, the effect on crops and more.  
  • Pay special attention near sensitive areas such as highways, homes, schools and other occupied dwellings or where workers are present. 
  • Properly calibrate equipment, using the proper nozzles and pressure to keep the spray on-target. 
  • Scout the areas bordering the place that’s being treated.
  • Evaluate conditions such as wind speed, wind direction, and temperature.
  • Stop applying immediately if conditions change in ways that increase the risk of drift to unsafe levels or if anyone approaches the area without proper protection.  
WSDA licenses about 25,000 pesticide applicators, dealers, consultants and inspectors. Licensees are trained to apply pesticides safely. If problems do occur, WSDA will investigate complaints that allege the state’s pesticide laws have been violated -- including cases of drift, worker exposure, or environmental harm. 

To file a complaint, email or call toll free to 1-877-301-4555. When you call, have as much information as possible ready to share with the investigator. 

The state Department of Health investigates potential cases of pesticide illnesses. Visit their website at for more information. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Women in agriculture learn how to power up their communication

Kathy Davis

If you picture attendees of a Women in Agriculture conference learning how to fix a tractor or take soil samples, think again -- at least regarding this year’s conference held on March 19. 

Participants of the 2016 Women in Agriculture Conference, gathered at the
Olympia site in the Natural Resources Building.
The 600 participants who gathered in 28 networked sites across five states learned about a skill essential to any industry – interpersonal communication. More than 20 participants attending in Olympia were hosted by WSDA at the Natural Resources Building. Christina Harlow with USDA was the site facilitator, and the whole event was emceed by Margaret Viebock, director of Chelan and Douglas counties WSU Extension.  

The morning speakers, Wendy Knapp and Michael Stolp of Northwest Farm Credit Services, presented a personal assessment model called DiSC®. By reviewing the four behavior styles in the DiSC® personality profile, conference attendees better understood their own communication tendencies and how they affect others. 

During group activities, participants identified themselves with one of the four styles and joined
others like them to discuss what works and what doesn’t when interacting with those having different styles. Based on the DiSC® descriptions, I joined a table of others with the “Steadiness” profile. We related and joked about our similar personality traits and how we cope with those in our lives who function differently. 

Another activity presented real-world examples, such as marketing your product to a restaurant or securing financing. Groups brainstormed how to approach different personalities to achieve these goals. 

One of the unique challenges in agriculture is that business partners are often family members. Michael and Wendy pointed out that work conversations around the dinner table or at the truck tailgate may not yield desired results. 

The afternoon’s keynote speaker, Shelly Boshart Davis, talked about how her family’s farm in Tangent, Oregon, has used the DiSC® assessment to improve their relationships and their business. Her extended family and all permanent employees have taken the assessment. 

My own favorite take-away of the day was the notion that various communication styles are like ingredients in a recipe. The key to the success of a business, family or team is to respect each individual, strike a balance and blend accordingly.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Imagine a gypsy moth spring

Karla Salp
Pest Program Outreach Coordinator

A sunny day in spring beckons many to enjoy time outdoors. But it isn’t only enticing humans. Now is when gypsy moth caterpillars start to emerge from egg masses and begin causing all the problems for which they are so loathed.

Just what is it like to live in an area infested with gypsy moth when spring time rolls around?

Creepy Crawlies

Each gypsy moth egg mass can contain up to 1,000 eggs. In infested areas, trees and other outdoor surfaces can be covered with egg masses. When the eggs hatch and gypsy moths begin to feed, the caterpillars can literally cover trees, houses, play sets, cars – any outdoor (and sometimes indoor!) surface. Check out this video by a homeowner in another state recording the gypsy moth caterpillar infestation at his house.

A serious infestation can result in so many caterpillars, they can fall from trees on anyone walking outside. Imagine picking them out of your hair as you walk to your car or bus stop.

Chewing With Their Mouths Open 
Gypsy moth caterpillars

We’ve all been taught to chew with our mouths closed. This lesson apparently isn’t passed on to gypsy moth kids. When the caterpillars eat, leaf bits fall from the trees. In outbreaks, residents have even reported hearing the gypsy moths chewing on leaves – day and night.

Raining Poop

That’s right. So many caterpillars eating so much that it literally “rains” caterpillar poop. Don’t believe it? One man recorded the phenomenon in this short home video.

The Gypsy Moth Sting
Caterpillar "sting" by WikiHow User Flickety

Gypsy moth caterpillars can cause eye, skin, and lung irritation. Some people are allergic to the caterpillar hairs with reactions that include stinging rashes or blisters, as shown in this photo.

These are just a few of the ways that gypsy moths can damage quality of life, beyond the ecological harm they inflict. At WSDA, the Pest Program has successfully prevented the gypsy moth from ruining our springs for 40 years.

Want to learn more? We tried to paint a picture for you in our latest gypsy moth video, and you can hear from people who have lived with the gypsy moth in our old gypsy moth video, as well. Of course, you can always visit our website at for more information.