Biological control agents

​A biological control agent is an organism, such as an insect or plant disease, that is used to control a pest species.

Before a biological control agent is released into the Australian environment, it must be established, via risk analysis, that the risk associated with release is very low or negligible, consistent with Australia’s appropriate level of protection (ALOP).

Risk analyses for biological control agents are undertaken within the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment by technical and scientific experts in consultation with scientific specialists and other stakeholders. The risk analyses are based upon an initial submission for release of a biological control agent, which contains the results of host specificity testing. Based on the risk analysis, the department provides a recommendation to allow release only if the risk is considered acceptable.

The department assesses the risk under the Biosecurity Act 2015. There is also an approval process within the department under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999(EPBC Act). Risk analysis reports may be used by the Minister for the Environment in making a determination under the EPBC Act to include the species on the List of specimens taken to be suitable for live import (the Live Import List).

Host specificity testing

Host specificity testing is carried out to ensure that the proposed biological control agent is specific to the target weed or insect pest.

A host specificity test list is a list of plants/insects closely related to the target weed or insect pest that is developed by a biological control researcher. The species on the list are exposed to the proposed biological control agent in a quarantine containment facility.

Risk analyses

Biological control agent risk analyses, as opposed to plant commodity biosecurity risk analyses, do not assess the probability of entry, establishment and spread.

Biological control agents intended for release are deliberately introduced, distributed, aided to establish and spread. Therefore it would be inappropriate to assess the probability of entry, establishment and spread. Biological control agent risk analyses focus only on off-target effects, as this is the only concern with regard to the release of biological control agents.

Last reviewed: 22 June 2021
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