Wageningen, The Netherlands
June 14, 2010
Biological control is the most sustainable and economically profitable method of pest control in agriculture. Yet its introduction is proceeding in fits and starts. The attitude of the uninterested pesticide industry and non-committed governments combined with excessive regulations are proving a barrier to the fast application of this sustainable pest control method worldwide. This is the view of Professor Joop van Lenteren as he takes his leave as Professor of Entomology at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, on 10 June.
Pest control in agriculture has developed in leaps and bounds in the past century. After sixty years of chemical pest control, we have now entered the era of ecological control, according to Professor Van Lenteren. In his farewell speech Ecology: Cool science, but does it help? he describes the achievements of academic research aimed at controlling insect pests through the targeted use of natural enemies and pathogens. At the same time, he refers to what he sees as the barriers to the wide-scale introduction of biological control. According to Van Lenteren, the pro-pesticide use lobbying chemical industry is not interested in biological control because natural enemies cannot be patented and do not have a long life, are applied to control a specific infestation and require extra training for sales people and farmers. Moreover, cheap chemical pesticides do not take into account the indirect costs of environmental pollution, the killing of non-targeted insects and the health of the user. If that were the case, then chemical pesticides would have to be two to three times more expensive.
Neither does Professor Van Lenteren have anything good to say about governments. "Governments lack policy relating to sustainable solutions for pest control. Because industry does not benefit from an activity with a marginal profit, you expect a regulating role from the government."
However, that is a role which appears to be fulfilled more by supermarkets and consumers, who increasingly demand products which are free of pesticides, particularly prohibited pesticides.
A third problem for the introduction of biological control methods is the growing mass of rules and guidelines, for example on importing and releasing natural enemies. "These rules can and must be radically simplified and brought into alignment", says Professor Van Lenteren. On the other hand, the future of biological control is being seriously threatened by the Convention of Biological Diversity. Recent applications of these rules have resulted in potential enemies no longer being allowed to be collected or exported, not even to countries where circumstances have seen the arrival of the insect pest.
Over the past 120 years, the practice of biological control has managed to permanently control 165 infestations and weeds. To this end, 2700 species of natural enemies were evaluated for their capacity for pest control. In 30% of cases, permanent suppression of the pest was achieved, with full control of the infestation in 10% of the cases. The most commonly used organism is Rodolia (a type of ladybird) that controls willow scale in over 50 countries.
In addition, 170 natural enemies are commercially produced worldwide to control more than 100 regularly recurring infestations. As an eco-system service, biological control yields an impressive 400 billion dollars per annum.
Lifetime Achievement Award
For his outstanding contribution to develop sustainable, ecological pest control methods and for his inspiring activities and vision Prof. Van Lenteren received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the world-wide biological control industry at the occasion of his Farewell Lecture as a professor from Wageningen University on June 10th.