Biotechnology is a fairly broad term and it is difficult to talk of it as a specific sector or industry. Still, Ernst & Young make a pretty good stab at measuring it. In their biotechnology report (European Life Sciences, 1998) they sometimes call it the entrepreneurial life sciences sector and in their analysis include those companies which use modern biotechnological techniques to develop pro-ducts or services for health care, animal health, agriculture, food pro-cessing, renewable resources and the environment.
Companies which use conventional biological processes, such as brewers, are not included, nor are non-profit research institutions. According to Ernst & Young, there were 1,036 companies working in the ‘life sciences sector’ in Europe in 1997, employing more than 39,000 people directly, with revenues of $3.1 billion and $2.2 billion invested in R&D.
The US industry is much larger than Europe’s. Again according to Ernst & Young US companies invested $9.4 billion in R&D in 1997, employed 140,000 people and posted total reve-nues of $18 billion. The spending is much higher, largely because the commitment to R&D in US operations is so high.As for Canada, by 1996 it had proportionally more companies in biotechnology as defined by Ernst & Young than in either the United States or Europe and, in absolute terms, more companies involved in agro-foods.A growing culture
The use of modern biotechnology, in particular genetic engineering, is probably the biggest emerging issue affecting food safety and quality, as well as international trade. The increase in area covered by GM crop plants is growing, as the graph shows. The -total area of major, genetically modified crops was estimated at 28 million hectares in 1998, more than double the level of 1997. That is roughly equivalent to the agricultural land area of France.Attitudes towards genetically modified crops vary widely. North Americans appear relatively open towards GM food. In -Europe the picture is more mixed; genetically modified organisms are heavily restricted by the European Union and banned in Austria and Luxembourg. In Switzerland a referendum rejected a move to ban the use of GMOs in June 1998.©OECD Observer No 216, March 1999