What are biopesticides?
Biopesticides (also known as biological pesticides) are certain types of pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. For example, garlic, mint, and baking soda all have pesticidal applications and are considered biopesticides. At the end of 1998, there were approximately 175 registered biopesticide active ingredients and 700 products.
Biopesticides fall into three major categories:
(1) Microbial pesticides contain a microorganism (bacterium, fungus, virus, protozoan or alga) as the active ingredient. The most widely known microbial pesticides are varieties of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which can control certain insects in cabbage, potatoes, and other crops. Bt produces a protein that is harmful to specific insect pests. Certain other microbial pesticides act by out-competing pest organisms. Microbial pesticides need to be continuously monitored to ensure they do not become capable of harming non-target organisms, including humans.
(2) Plant-pesticides are pesticidal substances that plants produce from genetic material that has been added to the plant. For example, scientists can take the gene for the Bt pesticidal protein, and introduce the gene into the plants= own genetic material. Then the plantBinstead of the Bt bacterium--manufactures the substance that destroys the pest. Both the protein and its genetic material are regulated by EPA; the plant itself is not regulated.
(3) Biochemical pesticides are naturally occurring substances that control pests by non-toxic mechanisms. Conventional pesticides, by contrast, are synthetic materials that usually kill or inactivate the pest. Biochemical pesticides include substances that interfere with growth or mating, such as plant growth regulators, or substances that repel or attract pests, such as pheromones. Because it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a natural pesticide controls the pest by a non-toxic mode of action, EPA has established a committee to determine whether a pesticide meets the criteria for a biochemical pesticide.
Microbial and Antimicrobial Pesticides: These are two separate and distinct types of pesticides registered by EPA.
* Microbial Pesticides are microbes, including bacteria, that help to control insects and weeds, as well as fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. These are one type of biopesticide.
* Antimicrobial Pesticides are pesticides that control unwanted microbes on inanimate objects, in water, and on selected foods under certain circumstances. These pesticides are almost always chemicals, and they act by killing or inactivating microbes that are pests. Antimicrobial pesticides include the disinfectants used in swimming pools, drinking water supplies, and in hospitals to control microbes that can cause disease.
What are the advantages of using biopesticides?
• Biopesticides are inherently less harmful than conventional pesticides.
• Biopesticides are designed to affect only one specific pest or, in some cases, a few target organisms, in contrast to broad spectrum, conventional pesticides that may affect organisms as different as birds, insects, and mammals.
• Biopesticides often are effective in very small quantities and often decompose quickly, thereby resulting in lower exposures and largely avoiding the pollution problems caused by conventional pesticides.
• When used as a component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs, biopesticides can greatly decrease the use of conventional pesticides, while crop yields remain high.
To use biopesticides effectively, however, users need to know a great deal about managing pests.
How does EPA encourage the development and use of biopesticides?
In 1994, the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division was established in the Office of Pesticide Programs to facilitate the registration of biopesticides. This Division promotes the use of safer pesticides, including biopesticides, as components of IPM programs. The Division also coordinates the Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (PESP). (See related fact sheets on IPM and PESP.)
Since biopesticides tend to pose fewer risks than conventional pesticides, EPA generally requires much less data to register a biopesticide than to register a conventional pesticide. In fact, new biopesticides are often registered in less than a year, compared with an average of more than 3 years for conventional pesticides.
While biopesticides require less data and are registered in less time than conventional pesticides, EPA must always conduct rigorous reviews to ensure that pesticides will not have adverse effects on human health or the environment. For EPA to be sure that a pesticide is safe, the Agency requires that registrants submit a variety of data about the composition, toxicity, degradation, and other characteristics of the pesticide.