The EU’s ambition to transform Europe to become more green, climate-neutral, sustainable and digitalised has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU is now not only looking at ways to recover but also to invest in the future, enhancing its resilience while increasing its strategic autonomy.
The biotechnology sector has long been recognised as an essential part of the knowledge-based economy, and has grown rapidly in recent years. According to a study by the Bio-based Industries Consortium, Europe’s bioeconomy boasts a €2.4tn turnover and supports 18.5 million jobs.
Biotechnology applications can be split into three main categories: healthcare and pharmaceutical applications; agricultural and aquaculture applications and industrial processes and manufacturing.
As such, it is both obvious and necessary that the sector can play a critical role in addressing the current crisis and support our recovery. The bioeconomy, and its bio-based industries also go hand-in-hand with innovative cancer research. To give one specific example, biotechnology companies are developing advanced therapies that target cancer in its most rare and challenging forms.
“COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how the EU can support the biotech industry”
The Commission identified this within its Beating Cancer Plan roadmap, recognising that gene and cell therapies hold the potential to revolutionise cancer treatment and calling for measures that will help healthcare systems adapt to these novel treatments.
In the Special Committee on Beating Cancer, we are hoping to focus both on the innovative aspects of cancer research and applications and on raising awareness of preventative measures and improving cancer treatment in children. The biotech industry also has the potential to revolutionise the agricultural sector.
We need brave policies that will encourage this revolution. Although Europe has taken a careful approach when it comes to GMOs, we must bear in mind that farmers rely on imports to cover almost 70 percent of their required protein-rich crops. Those crops are increasingly consumed as human food, with an annual growth rate of almost seven percent globally.
Supporting biotech in agriculture will enable products that can offer health benefits, such as lower carcinogenic potential and bio-fortification, while meeting increasing demand with enhanced shelf life and reduced food waste.
Biotech companies are also moving society towards a bio-based economy, accelerating the green transition and contributing to the achievement of the Paris Agreement objectives. To do this, the EU needs a fully circular economy.
The new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), adopted last spring, aims to make the economy fit for a green future, strengthening competitiveness while protecting the environment and giving new rights to consumers. The CEAP focuses on design and production, with the aim of reducing the EU’s consumption footprint and doubling the EU’s circular material use rate in the coming decade while boosting economic growth.
However, I believe that some points of the new plan need to be revaluated to address the COVID-19 situation. Let us not forget that the new CEAP was published on the same day that the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
COVID-19 has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on how the European institutions can support the biotech industry and help unleash its potential by adopting measures that encourage and foster scientific innovation. Growing our bioeconomy will ensure that the EU becomes an inviting and vibrant place to invest and do business.
By supporting innovation and spurring economic growth, the bioeconomy can provide new jobs while also ensuring sustainable development, protecting public health and the environment.