Peter G. Mason
Douglas J. Parker
General information and editorial notes
News and Notes:
Biological control is a cornerstone of pest management in many parts of the world. Use of entomophagous and phytophagous arthropods as biological control agents has resulted in important successes in reducing damage from pest species in a variety of manipulated systems and biological control has great value in sustaining environmental health, particularly through reductions in pesticide use. These attributes indicate that use of biological control agents will continue and even grow. However, debate is increasing on the need for greater regulatory oversight of biological control agents, including entomophagous species.
Expanded global trade has resulted in an astounding increase in the numbers of non-native species establishing in new habitats. Invasive alien species are responsible for estimated annual losses of US$55-248 billion to worldwide agriculture (Bright 1999). More difficult to assess are environmental costs due to habitat loss or species extirpation or extinction caused by invasive alien species (Parker and Gill 2002). Biological control is an important strategy for combating invasive alien species and it has been viewed as being ‘environmentally friendly’ for more than 100 years. However, during the last decade as science and society have become increasingly aware of the importance of biodiversity to human well-being, a less positive view of biological control, particularly in island environments, has emerged especially with the introduction of generalist predators and non-specific herbivores (Howarth 1991; Simberloff 1992). This perspective is based on non-target/unintended impacts and has stimulated much debate (e.g., Follett and Duan, 2000; Louda et al., 2003; Schick et al., 1996; Wajnberg et al. 2001). There is now a growing consensus that all deliberate introductions of non-indigenous species should be subject to impact risk assessment (Wittenberg and Cock, 2001). Furthermore, regulations for biological control agents "... are needed to provide clear guidance as to what introduction can be made legally and to define procedures to resolve any conflicts of interest that may arise." (Van Driesche and Bellows 1996). As Mason and Kuhlmann (2002) concluded, it is clear that regulations for biological control agents are necessary not only for the preservation of biodiversity but for the protection of biological control as a pest management strategy. Messing (2000) suggested that regulations would also help allay some of the concerns about introductions of exotic species that result in exaggerated estimation of the risks in doing so. International and regional plant protection organizations have provided guidance on information requirements and important efforts are being made to ensure that legislation implemented for safety will facilitate rather than impede biological control (Mason et al. 2005).
Canada has been a world leader in responding to the need to better scrutinize biological control agents. Since the early 1990’s phytophagous biological control agents have been regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Regulation of entomophagous biological control agents was implemented in the late 1990’s, also by the CFIA. Biological control agents in Canada are regulated through the Plant Protection Act (PPA) of 1990 (Department of Justice Canada 2005). In accordance with this Act, an import permit is required for importations of all exotic arthropods into Canada. Conditions attached to the permit may include such restrictions as ‘for experimental use in a containment facility only’. Permits are generally valid for a 3-year period and are renewable. The permitting process is based on the provision of information relating to the source, the organism and the end-use (destination). Entomophagous biological control agents are regulated under the PPA with respect to their potential to be indirectly injurious to plants, because plant pests are loosely defined under the Act (Parker and Gill 2002). Furthermore, commercial entomophagous agents are regulated in a similar manner to classical agents and those species with a history of importation without negative effects are generally admitted under permit.
For release of a classical biological control agent or a first release of a commercial biological control agent submission of a petition (based on the NAPPO standard) justifying the release is required. The petition is reviewed by experts and representatives of other agencies, including Environment Canada (EC) and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and where feasible, provincial government representatives. Petitions for phytophagous agents are also reviewed formally by the USDA-APHIS Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and Sanidad Vegetal (Mexico). Petitions for entomophagous agents are sent to USDA-APHIS and Sanidad Vegetal for comment also. The review is carried out through a Biological Control Review Committee (BCRC) and depending on the comments, a recommendation is made for or against release to the regulatory entomologists of the CFIA who review all the comments and make a recommendation to the Director of the Plant Health Division (Fig. 1). The process generally takes about 6 months from submission to notification that release is approved or not approved.
The process has worked very well because recommendations are based on the scientific merit of the petition submitted, and although reviews are done mostly on a volunteer basis, these have been completed in a timely manner. This encourages compliance by practitioners and safety of the agents based on best available knowledge. While the future of using biological control agents will be that of greater scrutiny, appropriate regulation will ensure continuing effectiveness and increased safety.
Figure 1. Canadian process for scrutiny of submissions for import and release of organisms for biological control. CFIA = Canadian Food Inspection Agency; CPQP = Centre for Plant Quarantine Pests; EC = Environment Canada; PHDP = Plant Health and Production Division; PMRA = Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
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