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. At the end of 2001, there were approximately 195 registered
biopesticide active ingredients and 780 products. Biopesticides fall into three
(1) Microbial pesticides consist of a microorganism (e.g., a bacterium,
fungus, virus or protozoan) as the active ingredient. Microbial pesticides can
control many different kinds of pests, although each separate active ingredient
is relatively specific for its target pest[s]. For example, there are fungi that
control certain weeds, and other fungi that kill specific insects.
The most widely used microbial pesticides are subspecies and strains of
Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. Each strain of this bacterium produces a
different mix of proteins, and specifically kills one or a few related species
of insect larvae. While some Bt's control moth larvae found on plants, other
Bt's are specific for larvae of flies and mosquitoes. The target insect species
are determined by whether the particular Bt produces a protein that can bind to
a larval gut receptor, thereby causing the insect larvae to starve
(2) Plant-Incorporated-Protectants (PIPs) 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 plant's own genetic material. Then the plant,
instead of the Bt bacterium, manufactures the substance that destroys the pest.
The protein and its genetic material, but not the plant itself, are regulated by
(3) Biochemical pesticides Biochemical pesticides are naturally occurring
substances that control pests by non-toxic mechanisms. Conventional pesticides,
by contrast, are generally synthetic materials that directly kill or inactivate
the pest. Biochemical pesticides include substances, such as insect sex
pheromones, that interfere with mating, as well as various scented plant
extracts that attract insect pests to traps. Because it is sometimes difficult
to determine whether a substance meets the criteria for classification as a
biochemical pesticide, EPA has established a special committee to make such
What are the advantages of using biopesticides?
Biopesticides are usually inherently less toxic than conventional
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
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.