Biological Alternatives to Chemicals

"Biopesticides have the potential to increase consumer confidence whilst moving away from a polarised choice between conventional and organic modes of production", said lead researcher Professor Wyn Grant. The research suggests that consumer concerns about toxic residues could undermine the recommended 'five a day' target for the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. Chemicals also endanger workers' health and can contaminate groundwater.

Biological control agents compared to chemicals have benefits as they have little impact on other organisms, are compatible with other natural enemies, do not leave toxic residues and are relatively cheap to develop. These outweigh the disadvantages of lower effectiveness and a shorter shelf life, so the researchers.

Why has there been poor uptake in Britain? The study says that because the regulatory system in the UK was developed with chemical pesticides in mind, it does not encourage the development of biopesticides. In recognition of this, the regulator - the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) - lowered registration fees and created a Biopesticides Champion in 2006. This has led to a modest increase in the number of biological products.

The researchers pinpointed a lack of mutual recognition between EU member states as a key reason why the US has a much higher rate of biopesticide use. This makes it hard for the small companies that usually develop biopesticides to obtain economies of scale. "The absence of a Europe-wide market for biopesticides is a significant obstacle to their wider commercial availability," the researchers said.

New chemical formulations could solve problems with biopesticide storage and efficacy and this might lead to greater interest from large businesses, the study says. Moreover, consumers need to be educated about biopesticides - and they should be given a name with less negative connotations. Also suggested is providing an ethical marque for products. Risks, costs and benefits need to be shared out between the manufacturer, regulator, government and consumers, say the researchers who also propose a framework to promote innovation within the regulator.; Source: Economic & Social Research Council