Self-limiting genetics in insect pest management – Regulatory imbalance in risk characterisation
Abstract: Control of insect pests in both public health and agriculture is coming under increasing pressure due to the accelerated prohibition of pesticide chemistries, increasing resistance to chemistries that are authorised and limited discovery of novel active ingredients. Additionally, consumers, food producers and governments are seeking non-chemical or integrated solutions for insect pest pressures which are more aligned with environmental protection goals such as the reduced use of chemical controls. Biological control using self-limiting genetics represents a new paradigm for pest insect management and is especially advantageous where those pests are or have become resistant to chemical insecticides. However, insect biological control agents as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies in agriculture, or Integrated Vector Management (IVM) in public health may be subject to a spectrum of regulatory oversight depending on the regulatory status of the insect. For example, non-genetically modified exotic species are subject to regulation under phytosanitary regimes and undergo a pest risk analysis (PRA) to determine if the organism is a pest and should be regulated, whereas genetically modified organisms generally have the regulatory trigger of the production process. In order for society to benefit from these innovations in agriculture and vector management it is important that new technologies such as self-limiting insects for biological control are regulated similarly and ideally by the characteristics of the self-limiting insect itself. It is currently not the case as genetically modified insects are subject to unjustifiably onerous oversight by regulators, as well as scrutiny in the public domain based on the technology used to produce the end product (genetic modification- GM). Insect pests present significant challenges to both public health and agriculture, and promising solutions using self-limiting genetics in release programs are now available or well in the development pipeline. Government policy makers and regulators must recognise that fully embracing solutions which can contribute to achieving broader government policy objectives in the areas of public health and agriculture requires adaptive approaches to regulatory oversight in risk assessment of living modified organisms (LMO’s) such as self-limiting insects.