The European Parliament unanimously accepted a proposal to speed up market registration of products for biological control of pests, that have a low environmental impact. Almost at the same time, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations issued a statement, saying that it is very well possible to feed a world population of nine billion people without the use of harmful chemical crop protection agents.
‘This clearly shows the tides are turning in favor of biological control, professor Joop van Lenteren says. Together with colleagues of Wageningen University & Research and of companies in the field of biological control, Van Lenteren published a thorough overview of the products that are available in biological control already.
Augmentative biological control
In their article, Van Lenteren and co-authors distinguish four types of biological control. ‘Natural biological control is an ecosystem service whereby pest organisms are reduced by naturally occurring beneficial organisms. In economic terms this is the greatest contribution of biological control to agriculture’, Van Lenteren explains. The second type, conservation biological control, consists of human actions that protect and stimulate the performance of naturally occurring natural enemies. In the third type, classical biological control, natural enemies are collected, mostly in the area of origin of a pest, and then released in areas where the pest is invasive. As this was the first type of widely practiced biological control, it is called classical’, he adds.
The article of Van Lenteren and co-authors focuses on the forth type: Augmentative Biological Control. Natural enemies are mass-reared for release in large numbers, either to obtain immediate control of pests in crops with a short production cycle or for control of pests during several generations in crops with a long production cycle.
The article lists several hundreds of organisms such as parasitoids, predators or micro-organisms, plus the pests and diseases that they are able to control. ‘We want to convey a clear and positive message’, Van Lenteren says: ‘A lot is possible in biological control already! The market for biological products is only 2% compared to chemical products. However, the European Union is about to ban more than half of the approximately thousand chemical pesticides that are on the market today. In the meantime, the market for biological control is growing with more than 15% per year.’
In promoting biological control, the health issue of consumers is of course of key importance. ‘But to me, the protection of biodiversity is almost of greater importance’, Van Lenteren states. ‘Decreasing the use of harmful chemical products significantly protects biodiversity. And biodiversity is directly and positively linked to the ecosystem services that protect the majority of our crops.’
To further increase the growth of biological control, Van Lenteren and co-authors propose a system they call ‘Conscious Agriculture.’ Conscious agriculture operates somewhere between conventional and organic and is flexible and non-dogmatic, the article states. It involves participation of all stakeholders in the production and consumption chain, and respects the environment and resource availability for future generations. This is in contrast with conventional agriculture, which concentrates on profit maximization and externalizing the cost of the harmful effects on human health, society and the environment. Van Lenteren adds: ‘Were all stakeholders to adopt this conscious agriculture, it would be no problem at all to feed a world population of nine billion, without harming our biosphere. It was of great importance that the UN and the EU stressed that as well.’