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Research article2013Peer reviewed

Regulating biocontrol agents: a historical perspective and a critical examination comparing microbial and macrobial agents

Sundh, Ingvar; Goettel, Mark S.


Ever since the inclusion of microbial biocontrol agents (MBCAs) within the regulatory frameworks initially designed for chemical pesticides, there has been awareness that these frameworks are not optimal for assessment and registration of new microbial biocontrol products. It is often claimed that the regulatory situation has contributed to a relatively slow uptake of microbial biocontrol in practice. In contrast to the MBCAs, non-indigenous invertebrate biocontrol agents (IBCAs) are regulated in many countries through quarantine and other biosecurity related legislation for prevention of introduction of alien organisms, whereas use of indigenous IBCAs are generally unregulated. In this study, we investigate what scientific support there is for performing evaluations of these two main groups of biocontrol agents (BCAs) within different frameworks. We compare potential risks of MBCAs and IBCAs, present a retrospective analysis of the development and implementation of the regulatory frameworks, and compare current requirements for MBCAs with those for other applications with microorganisms. One conclusion is that the ecological risks are of similar types between the two groups of BCAs, and that for both groups the environmental safety is most pertinently evaluated according to biological and ecological principles. The main difference between MBCAs and IBCAs with respect to human health is that the former may cause infectious disease. However, we found no evidence that this hazard is more serious for microorganisms for biocontrol than for microbes used in other types of applications, which generally have substantially lower regulatory demands than those for MBCAs. Several international initiatives have produced helpful guidelines and recommendations for simplified assessments and authorisations of BCAs. Still, we conclude that as long as MBCAs are evaluated within systems initially developed for chemicals, the risk for inappropriate emphasis of chemical hazards and therefore unnecessarily complicated assessments will be maintained. Therefore, this study supports the idea that development of new systems for the regulatory oversight of MBCAs, possibly a mutual framework covering all living BCAs, should be considered. Research issues that need to be further explored are to what extent utilisation of MBCAs actually results in increased exposure of non-targets to microorganisms, the biogeography and microbial ecology of representative MBCAs, and finally development of better methodology for determining potential human toxicity and pathogenicity of candidate MBCAs.


Microbial control; Macrobial control; Biocontrol regulations; Biocontrol safety; Biocontrol legislation

Published in

2013, Volume: 58, number: 5, pages: 575-593
Publisher: SPRINGER

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Agricultural Science
    Plant Biotechnology

    Publication identifier


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