Bio-pesticide definition remains hazy

As of April 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had registered 299 bio-pesticide active ingredients. In spite of that volume, the definition of bio-pesticide remains hazy.

“Bio-pesticides are pest management agents and chemicals derived from natural sources such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, plants, animals and minerals,” states Agriculture Canada on its website.

But some companies and scientists also use the phrase ‘bio-control’ to describe bio-pesticides.

“It’s really convoluted, across the globe, what people say a bio-control is, versus a bio-pesticide versus a natural pesticide,” said Colin Bletsky, chief operating officer of MustGrow Biologics Corp., a Saskatoon company that produces bio-pesticides.

Some define a bio-control as a fungus or bacteria, which is used to control an insect, weed or disease pathogen. A manufacturer of a bio-control would brew up a batch of beneficial fungus and apply the micro-organisms to the crop, perhaps in a spray or a granular product.

Clarence Swanton, a University of Guelph weed scientist, says that’s different from a bio-pesticide. The fungus might produce a natural chemical that kills a certain species of weed. A company could produce that natural chemical and sell the product as a bio-herbicide.

“Bio-herbicides would be along the lines of glufosinate, where there’s some novel chemistry exuded by the bacteria or fungus,” Swanton said.

Glufsosinate, or glufosinate-ammonium, was first derived from cultures of soil bacteria Streptomyces viridochromogenesa and was found to be active as a herbicide in greenhouse tests in 1976, BASF says on its website.

Some players in the crop protection industry don’t make the distinction between a fungus and the chemical produced by the fungus, Bletsky said.

For him, the key difference is synthetic vs. natural.

“If somebody is saying bio and pesticide, it cannot be synthetically produced,” he said.

“When I think about a bio-control or bio-pesticides… it is a natural product whether it is the straight fungus or bacteria. Or a metabolite (natural chemical).”

Complicating things, Agriculture Canada takes a different approach.

If a fungus produces a chemical that kills insects, for instance, it doesn’t matter if the chemical is produced naturally or synthetically.

“Semiochemicals are… chemicals produced by an organism that causes a behavioural response in another organism of the same or different species. Synthetically produced equivalents of these chemicals are also considered to be semiochemical biopesticides.”

So, the definition of bio-pesticide is about as muddy the Red River, as it flows north from Winnipeg.

How bio-pesticides are registered:

  • In Canada, bio-pesticides must satisfy the same guidelines as synthetic pesticides.
  • Registrants must prove that they’re effective, safe to humans and the environment.
  • As soon as registrants notify of a new bio-pesticide, fungicide or insecticide, it goes to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, according to Scott Walker, who runs DSW Enterprises and Consulting and co-ordinates research trials on bio-pesticides and bio-stimulants.
  • Bio-stimulants are micro-organisms or substances that enhance nutrient uptake, soil fertility and plant growth. They include things like bacterial and microbial inoculants, biochemicals, humic and fulvic acid and seaweed extracts.
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversees bio-stimulants under the Fertilizers Act and a company would register it as a supplement.
  • A CFIA working group for the Fertilizer and Supplement Advisory Committee is trying to put together information on the up and coming industry of biologicals and bio-stimulants.
  • Europe is ahead of Canada for rules and regulations governing bio-stimulants. By 2022, it will have established all the protocols for testing to have a product labelled under the European Biological Industry Council.

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