15 February 2024

The EU must take action for advancement of Biotechnology & Biomanufacturing

The EU has been a global leader in developing biomanufacturing (technologies and products) to its present, highly refined, and optimised level, implemented to largest commercial scale. This now demands strategic attention, for EU’s competitiveness and for the world. This paper outlines key opportunities, stressing the need for swift action to maintain leadership and to continue contributing to a more resource efficient, emission reducing and sustainable world.

The EU must take action for advancement of Biotechnology & Biomanufacturing. Photo: Chokniti Khongchum

The World Bioeconomy Association is urging the European Union to take a more active role in new biotechnology and biomanufacturing, emphasising their importance for competitiveness, circularity, and a global green and fair transition. While countries like the USA, China, UK, and India have recently been pursuing significant new bio-based initiatives, the EU appears recently to be less committed to the need for speed. Similar initiatives, such as the one proposed by the Tony Blair Institution in the UK, highlight a growing global consensus on the need for action. To stay competitive in this fast-paced sector, the EU needs to develop supportive policies (incl. updated regulatory), encourage research and development, and attract investments.

It is essential to note that biotechnology is an enabling technology and through biomanufacturing it is possible to make a broad range of products to a wide variety of industrial sectors. Industrial Biotechnology covers the production of biobased chemicals, biomaterials such as bioplastics, renewable fuels including sustainable aviation fuels, food ingredients, and feed additives. The current versatile tools and rapidly developing technologies will increase biotech’s importance in a transition to a green and sustainable future.

In addition, biotechnology and biomanufacturing have the potential for an increasing impact in the food sector. However, for implementing such new ways to produce climate-friendly food, re-visiting the regulatory environment is imperative.

Break down the silos of Biotech 

It is clear there is much to gain by breaking down the silos of industrial biotechnology and pharma biotechnology. Prebiotic food ingredients, health improving food supplements and medicines are a continuum of products. Building on the same microbiome-knowledge base, all parties can learn from each other and build evidence-based progress faster including safer medicines and resource-efficient, health-promoting food. 

Microbial Food produced in fermentation tanks may offer new income for farmers

Producing microbial food in large fermentation tanks has developed into a range of fermentation products and technologies. Tank production of food means farmers can sell new products, generating income from crop residues and carbohydrate-rich side-streams. The taste and texture of fungi can be a driver for more climate friendly plant-based food, here using already food-approved fungi, there should be no unforeseen regulatory hurdles.

Further, based on the experience from biomanufacturing of industrial proteins (e.g. enzymes) and biopharma, it has now been shown (both in EU and US) that it is possible to produce animal proteins in fermentation tanks. 

This new achievement can pave the way for climate-friendly technologies for producing animal-proteins without the associated methane emissions. However, upscaling and commercialization of these highly promising technologies in the EU is now facing ‘no-go’ regulatory approvals. If the EU wants to develop, upscale and commercialize this technology, regulatory approval for these types of GMO food products must be re-visited promptly. If EU regulatory does not approve, it will still be developed and promoted on other continents.

CO2, water and energy to produce food! – No land, No plants, No animals

It is now possible to produce food without the use of land. For example: Producing food and feed protein with bacteria living on modified CO2, plus H and O from water (PtX); e.g. the CORC approach producing food from captured CO2, transformed into acetate, then using this acetate as substrate for growing gene-edited microbes, bacteria and/or yeasts. 

Here updated regulations is a necessity. The simplest way would be to approve gene-editing of microbes in the ongoing process for approving gene-editing in plant breeding. The gene-edited organisms are identical to organisms, which could have been developed by conventional breeding. 

Each region can affect their investment attractiveness and the EU is no exception

The EU's drive to upscale and commercialize bio-based innovations necessitates active positioning and regulatory approval changes. However, it must go beyond this, taking a more active role in attracting bio-based, and biotech and biomanufacturing. Both the investment in climate and public acceptance are crucial. Currently, the EU risks losing opportunities unless it focuses on investment attractiveness and resolving regulatory obstacles.

Other actions needed for next generation Biotechnology & Biomanufacturing  

Big data and artificial intelligence to be applied to next generation Biotech and Biomanufacturing.  Bioinformatics and AI to be applied for developing products and improving understanding of food microbiome systems.

Next generation biotechnology and circular, biobased biomanufacturing, by unlocking the full potential of the biomass (residues and side-streams), now burned, down-graded or underutilized.

Take a holistic approach to integrated valorisation of biomass: Biorefinery feedstock, valorising both seaweed and side-streams of fish processing to allow year-round operation. And to biological absorption of carbon, accelerating carbon sequestration.

Calculate effects of bioeconomy on climate change mitigation: The impact of improved use of global biological resources by biotech, biomanufacturing and bio-solutions have, up to now, been neglected in global strategies for climate change mitigation. There is an urgent need to develop methods for calculating the effect of making valuable products and materials that replace hydrocarbons with carbohydrates. This must include the significant positive effects on GNP and reducing effects on CO2 and CH4 emissions. Further, making food and feed from residues can free significant land and space for biodiversity and forest.

Need for more collaboration and knowledge sharing within international RTDI: The EU’s frontier position in Biotech and Biomanufacturing can contribute significantly to a better world, through knowledge sharing and by collaboration for, among other advantages, improved food security in climate change challenged areas. With this approach concrete steps need to be taken for more international collaboration for food security, energy security, public health, and resilience.

Need for more collaboration and knowledge sharing within international RTDI: The EU’s frontier position in Biotech and Biomanufacturing can contribute significantly to a better world, through knowledge sharing and by collaboration for improved food security in climate change challenged areas. With this approach concrete steps need to be taken for more international collaboration for food security, public health, and resilience.

World Bioeconomy Association recommendation 

The EU needs to strategically embrace biotechnology and biomanufacturing, breaking down silos. Collaborative efforts and regulatory reforms are key to maintaining international competitiveness. Timely actions will determine the EU's role in shaping a sustainable, efficient, and competitive biotech and biomanufacturing future.

15 February 2024

Lene Lange
Professor (f), PhD & Dr.Scient.

Jukka Kantola
Chair, eMBA & M.Sc.
World Bioeconomy Association

The World Bioeconomy Association unites the global bioeconomy community to foster sustainable economic growth and advance the transition to a bioeconomy. Our partners and members include a diverse range of stakeholders, public organisations, business leaders, academics, government officials, NGOs, or other civil society representatives, all committed to pursuing progress in the bioeconomy.

The bioeconomy is a multisectoral concept, embraced by three visions of the bioeconomy (bioresource, biotechnology and bioecology) in the Association strategy and communication.

The Association promotes circularity of the bioeconomy, while recognising that all bioeconomy principles cannot be always circular. In the bioeconomy, resources are produced responsibly and sustainably, generating raw materials, intermediate and end products to replace materials exiting the cycle, thereby complementing the circular economy balance without reliance on a fossil-based economy.