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Information provided for informational purposes only

Note: This information is provided for reference purposes only. Although the information provided here was accurate and current when first created, it is now outdated.

What are Biopesticides?

Biopesticides (also known as biological pesticides) 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. At the end of 1998, there were approximately 175 registered biopesticide active ingredients and 700 products. Biopesticides fall into three major categories:

(1) Microbial pesticides contain a microorganism (e.g., a bacterium, fungus, virus or protozoan) as the active ingredient. These pesticides can kill many different kinds of pests. For example, there are fungi that control weeds, other fungi that control cockroaches, and bacteria that control plant diseases. The most widely used microbial pesticides are various types of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which can control specific insects in cabbage, potatoes, and other crops. Another type of Bt kills mosquitoes, but is ineffective against crop pests. Bt acts by producing a protein that kills the larvae of specific insect pests.

(2) Plant-pesticides are pesticidal substances that plants produce from genetic material that has been added to the plant. For example, scientists can take the gene for the Bt pesticidal protein, and introduce the gene into the plants' own genetic material. Then the plant–instead of the Bt bacterium--manufactures the substance that destroys the pest. Both the protein and its genetic material are regulated by EPA; the plant itself is not regulated.

(3) Biochemical pesticides are naturally occurring substances that control pests by non-toxic mechanisms. Conventional pesticides, by contrast, are synthetic materials that usually kill or inactivate the pest. Biochemical pesticides include substances, such as pheromones, that interfere with growth or mating of the pest. Because it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a natural pesticide controls the pest by a non-toxic mode of action, EPA has established a committee to determine whether a pesticide meets the criteria for a biochemical pesticide.

What are the advantages of using biopesticides?

Biopesticides are usually inherently less harmful than conventional pesticides.

Biopesticides generally affect only the target pest and closely related organisms, in contrast to broad spectrum, conventional pesticides that may affect organisms as different as birds, insects, and mammals.

Biopesticides often are effective in very small quantities and often decompose quickly, thereby resulting in lower exposures and largely avoiding the pollution problems caused by conventional pesticides.

When used as a component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs, biopesticides can greatly decrease the use of conventional pesticides, while crop yields remain high.

To use biopesticides effectively, however, users need to know a great deal about managing pests.

How does EPA encourage the development and use of biopesticides?

In 1994, the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division was established in the Office of Pesticide Programs to facilitate the registration of biopesticides. This Division promotes the use of safer pesticides, including biopesticides, as components of IPM programs. The Division also coordinates the Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (PESP). (See related fact sheets on IPM and PESP.)

Since biopesticides tend to pose fewer risks than conventional pesticides, EPA generally requires much less data to register a biopesticide than to register a conventional pesticide. In fact, new biopesticides are often registered in less than a year, compared with an average of more than 3 years for conventional pesticides.

While biopesticides require less data and are registered in less time than conventional pesticides, EPA always conducts rigorous reviews to ensure that pesticides will not have adverse effects on human health or the environment. For EPA to be sure that a pesticide is safe, the Agency requires that registrants submit a variety of data about the composition, toxicity, degradation, and other characteristics of the pesticide.

For more information

Microbial and Plant-Pesticides: Phil Hutton, Chief, Microbial Pesticides Branch, Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division, (703)308-8260

Biochemical Pesticides:Sheryl Reilly, Chief, Biochemical Pesticides Branch, Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division,
(703) 308-8269

General Information: Communication Services Branch, (703) 305-6231, or the National Pesticides Information Center 1-800-858-7378.

Internet site: www.epa.gov/pesticides

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