France bets on development of biocontrol to solve pesticide problem

"France has been looking at the issue of biocontrol for ten years. It developed a definition in 2014 and has planned to launch a strategy, the broad outlines of which are awaited. The 2020s are going to be the years when we see implementation," explained Denis Longevialle, Secretary-General of the French association of biocontrol companies (IBMA). [Guta Timmen / shutterstock.com]

Having struggled to reduce the use of plant protection products, France intends to work twice as hard on the development of so-called ‘biocontrol’ methods. Besides, it is pushing to develop more favourable rules at European level for the industry. EURACTIV France reports.

The crop protection technique known as biocontrol makes use of natural mechanisms, such as predator insects that target parasites and fungus-killing bacteria, as well as substances derived from natural plants, animals or minerals such as sulphur.

And although biocontrol is by no means a miracle solution to the reduction of phytosanitary products, it should nevertheless significantly contribute to it.

The aphid-predatory ladybird, or the Trichogramma, a micro insect predator that is widely used for the control of pests in organic as well as conventional field maize crops, are among the biocontrol solutions that have already proven themselves in agriculture.

A wide range of solutions

The development of the sector was placed at the top of the French political agenda at the sixth annual biocontrol meetings, which took place on 21 January in Paris. That day, Agriculture Minister, Didier Guillaume, promised a roadmap to boost the sector, which will include support measures for the industry for the next five years.

However, the acceleration of France’s biocontrol sector did not happen by chance.

Sales figures for pesticides exploded in 2018, which appears counterproductive given that France aims to halve its use of pesticides by 2025. The Minister of Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Elisabeth Borne, has also called it “an agricultural model, which has reached the end of its lifespan”.

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For the time being, the French biocontrol sector continues to benefit from a better framework than the one at the European level, explained Denis Longevialle, Secretary-General of the French association of biocontrol companies (IBMA).

“France has been looking at the issue of biocontrol for ten years. It developed a definition in 2014 and has planned to launch a strategy, the broad outlines of which are awaited. The 2020s are going to be the years when we see implementation,” he continued.

In 2018, biocontrol represented 8% of the pesticide market, or €170 million, according to IBMA figures. “And we will probably be at 10% by 2020. Our goal is to reach 30% in 2030,” said Longevialle.

Another advantage is that in France biocontrol products benefit from accelerated procedures for the evaluation and processing of applications for marketing authorisation. Thus, when ANSES’s evaluation period for plant protection products is 12 months, it is only six months for biocontrol products.

But this is not the case in Europe, where the issue of biocontrol has neither a standard definition nor an adapted marketing procedure.

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Europe is lagging behind

European law subjects biocontrol products to the same requirements as plant protection products, as laid down in 2009’s Regulation concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market.

In 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on biocontrol products asking the European Commission to simplify the procedures for placing these products on the market. But for now, the matter is still on the back burner.

“We need to adapt the assessments linked to the placing on the market of biocontrol products, which are currently not adapted.  We don’t need low-range approval, but it has to be adapted,” the secretary-general said.

To facilitate approval, the various European representatives of the sector are working on a common definition of biocontrol.

“It should be kept in mind that biocontrol is not a substitute for plant protection. It is a change in practice,” warned Philippe Noyau, the president of Centre Val de Loire’s regional chamber.

In addition to the regulatory obstacles, biocontrol products also face issues of efficiency and cost.

“In biocontrol, there is no miracle solution to a problem and the risk of non-effectiveness is higher,” explained Philippe Noyau. “The use of biocontrol will help reduce the use of phytosanitary products, but it takes time, because there is currently no solution for everything, and it is still costly,” he added.

“The challenge at French and European level is to reduce the use of pesticides. To do this, biocontrol is a fundamental solution”, Denis Longevialle stressed.

“To achieve this, the main lever is to speed up research and innovation in the area of biocontrol. Today, many solutions are lacking, especially in the case of field crops, for example. So, we need incentives for research”.

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