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Sustainable Use of Pesticides

Opportunities for Integrated Pest Management - implementation of Directive 2009/128/EC to ensure the sustainable use of pesticides

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Plant pests (including plant-feeding invertebrates, pathogens and weeds) are a significant constraint on food production. At the moment, pest control is heavily reliant on the use of synthetic chemical pesticides. The EU has recently put into place new rules for the sustainable use of pesticides to reduce the risks and impacts on people's health and the environment (Directive 2009/128/EC). The Directive states that ‘Member States should promote low pesticide-input pest management, in particular integrated pest management, and establish the necessary conditions and measures for its implementation’ and that ‘Member States should describe in their National Action Plan how they ensure the implementation of the principles of integrated pest management, with priority given wherever possible to non-chemical methods of plant protection and pest and crop management’. There is a clear need to provide European farmers and growers with crop protection tools that can be used as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to meet the requirements of the Sustainable Use Directive. However, developing new crop protection technologies, getting them to the market, and working out the best ways to use them in IPM is not simple.

The first presentation given by Dr Rosemary Collier focussed on the key issues around IPM using brassica crops as a case study. Rosemary drew on relevant UK experience and recent material collected by an EIP Focus Group on brassica crops (vegetables and oil seed rape) to give an overview of IPM and various practical methods currently in use to achieve this including biological control agents and natural products, chemical, cultural and physical methods, plant breeding, and decision support tools. Such IPM techniques are used widely and successfully in Europe and elsewhere in the production of protected crops such as tomato (glasshouse and polytunnel production). However, IPM in outdoor crops presents a greater challenge; plants are freely exposed to a range of pests and diseases, but, in contrast to protected crops, there is no environmental control, and released biological control agents have every opportunity to disperse. Crops that are rotated on an annual or more frequent basis, such as vegetables and cereal crops, are a particular challenge as, apart from within field margins, there is little chance to build up a stable ecosystem that supports beneficial organisms. In addition, for most outdoor crops, there are insufficient practical and effective IPM tools available at present for farmers and growers to take a ‘whole crop’ approach. A further constraint is that any ‘alternative’ method of pest control needs to be economically as well as environmentally sustainable.

Following on from Rosemary’s presentation, Dr David Chandler presented on the use of biopesticides based on two types of agent: (i) micro-organisms that infect, antagonize or out-compete plant pests; and (ii) natural compounds that alter pest behaviour, kill or disable pests, or which elicit plant defences. Many biopesticides are selective, produce little or no toxic residue, and development costs are lower than for conventional chemical pesticides. However, they often have a lower efficacy than conventional chemical pesticides, shorter persistence in the environment and greater susceptibility to unfavourable environmental conditions. Therefore, they are usually not suitable as stand-alone treatments, but they can make a valuable contribution to IPM when combined with other methods. At present there are about 90 biopesticide products available in Europe. Some other trading blocs such as the USA have better access to new biopesticides through fast track and lower cost registration policies.

Finally, Professor Wyn Grant discussed the registration and regulation of biopesticides within the EU. All biopesticides require assessment by EFSA before they can authorized for use. This registration process is a modification of that used to assess conventional chemical pesticides. In the past, the development of new biopesticide products typically depended on small companies that lacked the knowledge and resources to deal with a complex regulatory environment. More recently, a number of established companies in the sector have been taken over by major companies. This reflects what are seen as enhanced opportunities for biopesticides as a number of chemical products are withdrawn for either commercial or regulatory reasons. However, the availability of a good range of suitable products on the market still depends on the detailed implementation of regulatory changes introduced by the European Union. It also relies on a greater appreciation of the opportunities for plant protection that biopesticides offer from growers, retailers and consumers.

Dr Rosemary Collier is Director of Warwick Crop Centre in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick and an Academic Lead for the Warwick Global Research Priority (GRP) on Food. Her main research interest is in the development and application of Integrated Pest Management strategies for horticultural crops. Rosemary is a member of UK Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, the Royal Horticultural Society Science Committee, the UK Insecticide Resistance Action Group and the IOBC-WPRS Council. She has been a member of a recent EIP focus group on ‘Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - Focus on Brassica species’.

Professor Wyn Grant is Professor of Politics at the University of Warwick. Prof Grant’s main area of research work has been comparative public policy, with special reference to agricultural and environmental policy with an emphasis on regulatory issues. He is an acknowledged expert on the Common Agricultural Policy and the food chain. He is author of “The Common Agricultural Policy” (1997) and co-author of “Agriculture in the New Global Economy” (2004) as well as many refereed journal articles and book chapters on agricultural, food and environmental policy. He was principal investigator for an interdisciplinary Rural Economy and Land Use project, funded by the UK Research Councils, on the regulation of biopesticides.

Dr David Chandler is Principal Research Fellow at the Warwick Crop Centre in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick. He is an expert in the microbial control of arthropod pests, IPM in horticulture, and honeybee health. He has research interests in understanding the biology of insect pathogens, with particular emphasis on the physiology and ecology of entomopathogenic fungi and their development and use as biopesticides, His work encompasses laboratory, glasshouse and field studies, and he has worked on a range of crop types, including protected edibles, ornamental crops, soft and top fruit, field vegetables, and arable crops. He has been an advisor to the European Parliament Agriculture Committee on IPM and has acted as an external assessor for research programmes run by the US Department of Agriculture.