How big is biotech?

OECD Observer
Page 18 
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

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019