Biological control

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Summary

Following numerous discussions of the risks associated with biological control, (see Howarth, 1991; Simberloff & Stiling 1996; Thomas & Willis 1998) literature was reviewed in order to investigate whether biological control was an environmentally friendly or a risky business. Although a lack of firm evidence suggests that risks may be ‘perceived’ rather than ‘real’, the release of the biological control agent Harmonia axyridis by countries lacking in regulation has severely damaged biological control’s reputation and ecosystems all over Europe. Biological control is the most sustainable, cost efficient and natural method of pest management and therefore it should be used to its full potential.

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Harmonized regulation is required to improve biological control’s reputation by preventing the release of ‘risky’ agents in the future. Regulation should facilitate rather than restrict the use of biological control below its potential. Regulation should be specifically designed for biological control and should enforce the use of an environmental risk assessment (ERA). Scientifically based methodologies are required to ensure an efficient ERA is conducted for potential biological control agents. An efficient ERA should identify unsuitable agents as early as possible to reduce cost and time requirements. This will allow the continued growth of the biological control industry. Biological control should be utilised as part of Integrated Pest Management to ensure the most efficient control of each pest.

Introduction and objectives

Insects are the foundations of ecosystems, vectors of disease and agricultural pests around the world (Gassmann et al. 2009). Table 1 shows that as agricultural pests, insects cause economic losses of billions every year.

The economic damage caused by insect pests (see Table 1) and the increased consumer demand for blemish free produce has led to the utilisation of different approaches to pest management (Castle et al. 2009). For example, modern pesticides have been used since their development in the 1940s and it has recently been estimated that 8000 metric tons of insecticide (FAO, 2009) are used around the world at an approximate cost of $40 billion every year (Akhabuhaya et al. 2003).

The advantages of pesticide use include the short time between application and effect, the eradication of the pest in the area of application and the predictability of success (Bale et al. 2008). The speed and assumed efficiency of pesticides led to their great popularity up to the 1970s when concerns arose about their effects on health and the environmental (see Table 2).

The rise in public concern and increased evidence of the negative effects of pesticides (see Table 2) led to the reduction of their use in the 1970s (Chiu & Blair, 2009). Pesticides associated with the more serious risks were made illegal, such as DDT in 1984 (Attaran & Maharaj, 2000). The great reduction in pesticide use over the last 50 years has allowed other pest management techniques,

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