Biocides can reduce the need for chemical pesticides
Chemical pesticides make a major contribution to the fight against hunger and infection, but they can also have a negative impact on the environment and human health. Biological agents could replace chemical agents, and are assessed by organisations including the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA).
In the last century, chemical pesticides were celebrated for their role in helping to maximise harvests, prevent crop spoilage and reduce disease such as malaria and typhus. A few years later, however, in the second half of the 20th century, it became clear that these agents also had unwelcome side effects, causing damage to the environment and human health, and that pests had also become resistant to them.
These findings had several effects: firstly, alternative agents were sought which were just as effective but had the fewest possible side effects. Secondly, restrictions and bans were imposed on harmful chemical agents such as DDT. In recent years, increasing numbers of biological agents have been developed, approved and put to use. These agents are micro-organisms, or other biological substances of natural origin, and in addition to their positive environmental attributes, they frequently have a high target-specificity in comparison with synthetic agents.
One of the most frequently used biological agents is the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis which is commonly found in soil. Due to its production of insecticidal proteins, it is of particular importance in the fight against malaria, for the cultivation of agricultural crops and for controlling the oak processionary moth.
Regulation (EU) 528/2012 standardises the assessment, approval and restriction of biocides throughout Europe, which means pesticides for use in hygiene, conservation and product protection. In Germany, the Federal Office for Chemicals (BfC) of BAuA is responsible for the coordination. Plant protection products, in contrast, are assessed by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). Regulation (EU) 1107/2009 controls the approval of plant protection products in the EU.
The basis for the assessment includes research into the health risks, environmental compatibility and efficacy. The current list of active substances for biocides can be viewed on the web pages of the European Chemicals Agency, and those for crop protection products, on the web pages of the European Union.
In the area of pest control, biological agents differ from chemicals because they are able to multiply, adapt and change. The microbiological and molecular biological analysis of the identification, purity, health risks, environmental persistence, etc. also differs from the methods which are used with chemical agents. Among others, this also applies to DNA sequencing, growth conditions and pathogenicity tests.
BAuA's unit 4.7 for Biological Agents addresses all the topics surrounding the assessment of biologically-based biocides for national and European approval processes.