Innovation Delivering an Organic Fumigation for Cocoa - Western Fumigation
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Innovation Delivering an Organic Fumigation for Cocoa

by Shannon Sked, Ph.D., Director, Western Fumigation

One of the more considerable challenges in cocoa logistics and warehousing is ensuring that the commodity’s various certifications are maintained during its constant movement within the supply chain.

Those who work in the cocoa sector are familiar with many of the certifications available: Rainforest Alliance, UTZ certification, Fair Trade Certified, FLOCERT, and of course, National Organic Program. Each of these certifications requires specific standards for handling, storing, and treating the cocoa.

Pest management in cocoa creates a particular difficulty for beans that are certified organic; they are often moved to areas where conventional cocoa beans might have once been stored, could be transported with conventional products, or be in areas where conventional pesticide treatments or fumigations are likely to occur. A supply chain manager has quite a challenge ensuring these certified organic beans are protected from comingling or cross-contamination with conventionally treated product. One way is to segregate conventional and organic beans within the storage facility or transportation vehicle, but this can waste time, space, and money.

Fumigations are invaluable to the cocoa industry to keep the supply chain in line with the FDA requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act. This act requires that food product, ingredients, packaging, and facilities are kept free of pests to ensure they remain unadulterated and available for manufacturing.

Yet cocoa is particularly susceptible for (or attractive to) several cosmopolitan pests such as the cocoa moth, warehouse beetle, foreign grain beetle, and cigarette or drug store beetle. This high level of pest pressure on cocoa creates a high demand for effective control options, such as fumigants, to ensure the supply chain remains pest free and available for the market.

However, organic standards do not allow the use of conventional fumigants. If organic product is exposed to fumigants like sulfuryl fluoride, the most commonly used fumigant in the cocoa industry, it would lose its organic certification and the value differentiation on the market. This is also true for most, if not all, effective pesticide products such as those used in space treatments, fogging, or residual sprays.

To meet this challenge, Western Fumigation has been working on an alternative option that would be effective in controlling these pests and also allow organic certified beans to maintain their certifications. Enter carbon dioxide.

Western recently partnered with an ag-chem manufacturer on a service offering using CO2. The product, IGI Carbon Dioxide, is EPA registered and certified for organic use.

Over the winter, following registration acceptance, Western Fumigation has conducted field trials to ensure product effectiveness, determine monitoring requirements within the treated enclosure and in the surrounding ambient areas, and work through operational requirements. These field trials were necessary to ensure that the system works and is operationally realistic. They also help Western Fumigation determine the best ways it can offer this service to the port community.

Challenges have been significant, as the chemical is much more active and smaller than conventional fumigation chemistries. Maintaining high enough concentrations to ensure effectiveness is therefore more difficult.

The system uses a hermetically sealed bag made of a thick poly lining that can fit several pallets at the same time. Contrary to what most think, the CO2’s lethal action is not just anoxia (suffocation), but rather it causes increased respiration in pests exposed to the higher concentrations. This in turn causes them to keep their air exchange openings in an open position, and they lose water; so, the lethality is actually desiccation, an extremely effective mode of action among pesticides.

If the remaining trials continue to go as successfully as they have so far, Western anticipates being able to offer this treatment to small batches of pallets this spring. The plan is to first ensure it works well in the field and then develop scalable models to be able to do larger batch operations as the service progresses.

This type of innovation can offer great solutions for organic cocoa or other commodities that face the challenges of persistent pest pressures while still maintaining organic certification.