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The age of the bio-economy is upon us

Author  :       Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2014-01-27

A “bio-economy” refers to an economy based on the research, development and application of life sciences and biotechnology, and established upon the foundation of biotechnological products and industries. This word currently symbolizes the approach of a completely new era. Historically, human society has gone through the phases of the hunter-gatherer economy, the agricultural economy and the industrial economy. We are now entering an era marked by the information economy and the growth of the bio-economy, as symbolized by the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA in 1953 and the decoding of the Human Genome in 2000. Some scientists predict that humanity will reach the stage of a mature bio-economy by the late 2020s.

Many countries are coming up with strategies and policies to prepare for the advent of the bio-economy, and a competition to take the lead in future technologies and in the future economy is already unfolding.

The European Union has been the first international organization to put forward bio-economic strategies and policies. In the EU’s Seventh Framework Program for Research (FP7), bio-economy and the “from table to farm” food chain were marked as fields enjoying priority support, and a series of research projects and technical platforms including “Plants for the Future” and “Bio-fuel” were launched. After the release of New Perspectives on the Knowledge-based Bio-economy in 2005 and En route to the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy in 2007, the EU issued two other strategic reports entitled The Knowledge Based Bio-Economy (KBBE) in Europe: Achievements and Challenges and Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe in September 2010 and February 2012 respectively; in 2012, the strategic report Building a Bio-based Economy for Europe in 2020 was published by EuropaBio. These measures have made the European Union the region with the most systematic and efficient bio-economic strategy and policy.

In July 2013, the German government announced its bio-economic strategy, proposing to disengage from dependence on fossil energy, increase employment opportunities and enhance its country’s global competitiveness in the economic and scientific research fields. As early as December 2010, the German government passed the National Research Strategy for Bio-economy 2030, which aims to raise national competitiveness by adapting to the natural circulation of materials, ensuring a diversified supply of food and producing high-value renewable products. Germany has currently become the main force for the development of the bio-economy within the European Union.

The U.S. was the first country to come up with the concept of a “bio-economy”, create relevant strategies and policies, and then put them into practice. In November 2000 the U.S. government put forward a strategic plan named Promoting the Bio-economy Revolution: Bio-based Products and Bio-energy. In April 2012, the White House published the National Bioeconomy Blueprint, which stressed five strategic goals of the federal government concerning the bio-economy: human heath care, bio-energy, agriculture, environmental protection and bio-manufacturing. This strategic plan regards the bio-economy as a key element which reflects technology-driven economic growth.

The US’s bio-economic strategy drives the efforts of the OECD, which has been the first international organization to define what the bio-economy is. In 2004, the OECD issued a report called Biotechnology for Sustainable Growth and Development, defining the bio-economy as “an economic form utilizing reusable biological resources, efficient biological processes and ecological industrial clusters to produce sustainable bio-based products, create employment and revenue”.

As a comprehensive platform leading to sustainable development, the bio-economy will promote a shift towards greener practices in agriculture, health care, bio-manufacturing and bio-energy, environmental and ecological services and many other fields.

At the industrial and economic levels, China is a developing country whose economic development intrinsically necessitates a certain growth rate. With limited water, land, energy and other resources, traditional methods will not easily sustain the rapid development of industry and agriculture. It is thus imperative to replace non-renewable fossil resources with renewable biological resources, in order to achieve a green industrial upgrading. China has an urgent strategic need to establish a bio-economy, if seen both from the point of view of the country’s total resources and of its per-capita resources.

At the military and national security levels, China should strive to get ahead in biotechnology, so as to build up its ability to guard against biological weapon attacks. In the era of the bio-economy, China will also face inevitable and increasingly pressing bio-safety issues, including GM food safety, and ethical problems brought about by techniques like “human cloning” and “stem cells”.

At the social level, the so-called “Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability (LOHAS)” consumer demographic is going to be redefined as a result of bio-technology. This will mainly be due to the improvements in food security and nutritional levels, research and development in the biomedical services and their effective supply, and the development of more widespread biotechnological services.

The scope and content of the bio-economy is in dynamic development, but its inherent characteristics will remain the same, namely green transformation, sustainable development, focusing on the quality of life, and the humanization of the economy and society.

China is basically at the same starting point as the developed countries when it comes to facing the challenges which the era of the bio-economy will bring in its wake. The Chinese should actively make plans for the future, seize the opportunity to develop and implement national strategies and projects in this field, and construct a green industrial system suited to a bio-economy. These are the lessons which the coming of the bio-economy holds for China’s social development.



The author is from the Research Center for Bioeconomy Development, China Agricultural University.


The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 554, 27th January, 2014.

Chinese link:



  Translated by Du Mei

  Revised by Gabriele Corsetti






Editor: Chen Meina

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