9 August 2002

Super bugs put food production in danger

By Tom Allen-Stevens

INSECT pests are winning the war against farmers, with extra pesticide regulations stifling the development of new control techniques, researchers warn.

"The bugs are gaining on us – and our defences are increasingly fragile," says Rothamsted Research director Ian Crute.

About 540 insect species, 310 of them agricultural pests, resist at least one class of insecticide, according to a new report produced after a two-day workshop at Rothamsted Research.

Some pests, like the peach potato aphid, resist as many as three different insecticide classes and are very effective at developing resistance to new chemistry.

"We are engaged in a ceaseless war against a determined enemy and in many cases the enemy is winning," Prof Crute warns.

While the regulatory cost of developing new chemistry and retaining older pesticides remains so high science cannot keep up, he notes. Bringing a new chemical to market typically costs £60m.

Furthermore, many older pesticides are due to be dropped next year when more stringent EU regulations come into force.

New biological control methods, where natural predators or the plants own defences are used to combat pests, hold promise but also face expensive regulation.

Without new technology, the future of food and fibre production itself could be at threat, says the report.

GM crops do not currently provide the solution because insects have been found to evolve resistance to the toxins the modified plants produce.

The report concludes that farmers should use a number of different traditional and innovative pest control techniques. &#42