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Biopesticide use in agriculture and horticulture

Funded by the UK RELU (Rural Economy and Land Use) programme, a team from the University of Warwick investigated the regulatory and environmental sustainability of biopesticides in the UK, comparing regulatory developments with other systems in Europe and the USA. The project developed a series of recommendations to aid the commercialisation of biopesticides, and provided advice to regulators, policy-makers, several major UK supermarkets, and companies developing new products.


Background

Biopesticides are mass-produced, biologically based agents used for the control of plant pests. They can be living organisms (nematodes or micro-organisms) or naturally occurring substances, such as plant extracts or insect pheromones. They are an important part of integrated pest management (IPM), which aims to use complementary methods to manage pest populations at low levels, rather than eliminate them entirely. Biopesticides are being used on increasing scales and there is considerable interest in their potential as alternatives to conventional pesticides.

The use of biopesticides based on micro-organisms and naturally occurring substances is governed by a regulatory system that was developed according to a chemical pesticides model. This can act as a barrier to biopesticide commercialisation.

Through research funded by the UK RELU (Rural Economy and Land Use) programme, researchers investigated the regulatory and environmental sustainability of biopesticides in the UK, and compared regulatory developments here with other systems in Europe and the USA. The research was done by an interdisciplinary team from the School of Life Sciences (Dave Chandler, Gill Prince), and Politics and International Studies (Wyn Grant and Justin Greaves).

Impact

The researchers developed recommendations to improve biopesticide regulations and worked with UK regulators to reduce barriers to commercialisation.

  • UK supermarket Marks and Spencer has used the research to improve their pesticide strategy.
  • The findings informed European Parliament discussions. Researchers became involved with an EU policy action called REBECA (Regulation of Biological Control Agents) enabling them to influence policy at an international level. An EU Sustainable Use Directive on Pesticides has since been published.
  • The project’s impact on biopesticides regulation and the biopesticides industry was recognised in a report from the Defra Science Advisory Council.

Since the research started there has been a 430% increase in the number of biopesticide products approved in the UK.


Nematode

Nematode


REF2014 case study


'Our biopesticides scheme is now a pathfinder in Europe - no other member state has a scheme like this'
Richard Davis
Director of Approvals, Defra


'The RELU programme was an opportunity to combine social science and biological science to understand the regulatory and commercial barriers to getting biopesticides out in the field'
Dr Dave Chandler
Warwick Crop Centre