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Growing Interest in Biopesticides

“The database shows 86 registered biopesticides in Canada.”

April 13, 2016  By Gary Jones

When we talk about “biocontrol,” we’re normally referring to insect biological control agents such as Encarsia formosa, Amblyseius cucumeris (now a.k.a. Neoseiulus cucumeris) or Stratiolaelaps scimitus (Hypoaspis miles, or whatever it is called this week).

But what about non-insect beneficials – the “biopesticides?” In Canada, biopesticides and other non-conventional pesticides are grouped as follows:

Microbials: A micro-organism (bacteria, alga, fungus, protozoan, virus, mycoplasma or rickettsia and related organisms) and any associated metabolites to which the effects of pest control are attributed.


Semio-chemicals: Message-bearing substances produced by a plant or animal, or a functionally identical synthetic analogue of that substance, which evokes a behavioural response in individuals of the same or other species (e.g. pheromones).

Other non-conventional pest control products: Substances not covered by the above categories which meet some or all of the following criteria: (i) low inherent toxicity to non-target organisms, (ii) not persistent in the environment, (iii) pesticidal action is not the result of toxicity to the organism, (iv) low likelihood of selecting for pest resistance, and (v) already widely available to the public for other uses, with a history of safe use under conditions posing equivalent potential for exposure to humans and the environment.

Included in this category are common food items, extracts, preservatives or additives, plant extracts and oils, commodity chemicals that have a range of non-pesticidal uses, fertilizer or other plant growth supplements commonly used in the agricultural sector, and inert materials.1

In the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “biopesticides are certain types of pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria and certain minerals. For example, canola oil and baking soda have pesticidal applications and are considered biopesticides. As of September 2015, there were 436 registered biopesticide active ingredients and 1,401 active biopesticide product registrations” in the U.S.2 Like Canada, the EPA uses three main categories:

Microbial pesticides consist of a micro-organism (e.g., a bacterium, fungus, virus or protozoan) as the active ingredient.

Biochemical pesticides: naturally occurring substances that control pests by non-toxic mechanisms and include substances that interfere with mating, such as insect sex pheromones, as well as various scented plant extracts that attract insect pests to traps.

Plant-incorporated-protectants (PIPs): pesticidal substances that plants produce from genetic material that has been added to the plant. For example, scientists can take the gene for the B.t. pesticidal protein and introduce the gene into the plant’s own genetic material. Then the plant, instead of the B.t. bacterium, manufactures the substance that destroys the pest. The protein and its genetic material, but not the plant itself, are regulated by EPA.2 (In other words, the plant has been genetically engineered [GE].)

In Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada maintains a “Biopesticide Database Directory” intended to assist with finding biopesticide products for which the active ingredient may be non-conventional, a micro-organism, or a semio-chemical.1

The database shows 86 registered biopesticides in Canada. In the U.S., it reveals 239 product registrations. (Note: the database was last updated in 2010, and since that time several company acquisitions have taken place, merging product lines. This partially accounts for the difference in numbers reported by the EPA above.) As noted, there are differences in how products are classified with the third category listed being quite different in scope. Classifying GE products as more acceptable “biopesticides” is very misleading. If we hope to have any international uniformity in what growers can and can’t use, it would be helpful to harmonize the definition of biopesticide classifications and find that famous, albeit elusive, “level playing field.”



Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at

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