Biological alternatives to chemical pesticides

October 8th, 2008 - 4:30 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 8 (IANS) Both farmers and supermarkets are under increasing pressure to minimise the use of pesticides in fruits and vegetables.But a new study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), looks at why there is currently little use of biological alternatives in the UK.

Biopesticides can play a significant role in a more sustainable food chain as chemical pesticides are withdrawn due to resistance problems or because they are no longer commercially viable, according to research.

“It is evident that biopesticides have a potentially important contribution to make to a competitive agriculture industry,” said lead researcher, Wyn Grant, University of Warwick.

“They have the potential to increase consumer confidence in fruits and vegetables whilst moving away from a polarised and over-simplified choice between conventional and organic modes of production,” he said.

The research suggests that consumer concerns about toxic residues could undermine the recommended ‘five a day’ target for the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets have responded to consumer pressure by banning some approved pesticides, but have been slow to embrace biopesticides, according to ESRC release.

Biological control agents such as naturally occurring fungi, bacteria or viruses are applied in much the same way as chemical pesticides to fight insect pests but have obvious 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.

The study said that because the regulatory system in the UK was developed with chemical pesticides in mind, it does not encourage the development of biopesticides.

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 - often start-ups - that usually develop biopesticides to obtain economies of scale.

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