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One Out Of 100,000

The
next time you have apply a pesticide to your crops, consider there are at least
99,999 that didn’t make the cut.

That’s
how many compounds a chemical company like BASF normally evaluates before
finding one that hits the market.

Earlier
this month, BASF officials discussed this process at its Global Agricultural Solutions Press Info Day in Ludwigshafen,
Germany.

Screening
starts even before laboratory testing starts.

“We
apply certain filters (criteria) when we buy compounds from companies,” says
T.W. Newton, a BASF scientist.

Juan Sasturain, a scientist with BASF’s
global sustainability and stewardship division, notes the laboratory
prescreening starts with 100,000 compounds that gradually winnows down to 100
by the time field trials start. Out of these, one active ingredient eventually
makes it to market. The timeline for an active ingredient to pass through this
process is eight to 10 years.

Besides
efficacy, a product has several other criteria to meet. “We have to show there
is no adverse affect on farmers or consumers or the environment,” says
Sasturain.

Tests
are also conducted as to the compound’s impact on mammals, water organisms,
beneficial insects like honeybees, soil organisms, birds, and non-target plants.”
We also do studies about where (chemical) residues go,” he says. “

All
information is collected and then given to regulators. Typically, it takes two
years for regulatory approvals to occur.

Besides
taking 10 years to hit the market, a new active ingredient often costs 200
million Euros (over $270 million) to develop.

“This
explains why we only develop new active ingredients for big crops (like corn or
soybeans),” says Sasturain.  “It is
difficult to recover our costs from specialty crops like parsnips. Development
costs are the same for either a small or big crop.”

The Regulatory Process

The
regulatory process can takes some twists and turns, particularly in the
European Union (EU), say BASF scientists. There is a silver lining, though, in
science-based regulation that occurs in countries like the United States, notes
Christoph Wegner, BASF senior vice president of global research and development
for its crop protection division.

“Regulation
produces hurdles, but that is good for innovation,” he says. “It gives us the pressure
to look for the next generation (of products).  This can result in products that have more efficacy and that
are more environmentally friendly.”

One
problem, though, are when products are evaluated under a hazard-based
regulatory system, rather than a risk-based one, he says.

Under
a hazard-based system, electricity in a bathroom would be considered deadly. A risk-based
system takes into account all the safeguards that controls electricity in a
bathroom and minimizes the risk of death by electrocution. Unfortunately, the
EU is tilting toward the hazard-based analysis for pesticides, rather than a
risk-based system, he notes.

 

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