Macroorganisms are a common means of protecting plants from pests. International guidelines define how they are to be used. Agroscope evaluates the potential environmental risks of such macroorganisms on behalf of the Federal Office for Agriculture.
Pest control is a global challenge for agriculture, with crop plants being under repeated threat from known and emerging pest species. Furthermore, the European agricultural sector has taken a policy decision to reduce pesticide use. For these reasons, there is an ongoing need to search for alternative pest-control methods.
The number of mass-reared and commercially used beneficials has grown steadily since the early 1970s, as has the number of commercial producers and distributors worldwide. Today, beneficials are frequently used to control pests in greenhouses and fields. The growing international market for beneficials increases the risk of the accidental release of exotic organisms and their subsequent establishment. This in turn could interfere with indigenous organisms and even adversely affect rare or endangered species.
Concerns about the environmental impact of introduced beneficials have resulted in the development of international standards whose aim is to provide guidelines that can be adopted by national regulatory agencies. Switzerland introduced the mandatory registration of biological control agents back in 1986.
Following the latest guidelines developed by the FAO, EPPO, IOBC and OECD, Agroscope conducts the environmental risk assessment for each new commercial biological control agent to be used in Swiss agriculture on behalf of the Federal Office for Agriculture.
Based on our scientific results, we develop concepts and methods for the risk assessment of macroorganisms for plant protection, and participate actively on expert committees addressing this topic. In collaboration with the Institute of Agricultural Sciences at the ETH Zurich and the European MSc Programme Agroecology at ISARA-Lyon (France), we run courses on the impact of novel organisms in the agricultural sector, and on the risk assessment of beneficials. Our work contributes to the wide application of environmental- and health-friendly pest-control strategies.