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Publication | 2021

The Bioeconomy and Food Systems Transformation - Food Systems Summit Brief (February 2021)

Brief prepared by Research Partners of the Scientific Group for the Food Systems Summit

Bioeconomy is the production, utilization and conservation of biological resources, including related knowledge, science, technology, and innovation, to provide information, products, processes and services across all economic sectors aiming toward a sustainable economy. The bioeconomy concept aims at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increasing energy and material use efficiency, fostering responsible consumption, social inclusion and innovation.

The brief analyses the potential contribution of the bioeconomy to food systems transformation.

With science and technology, the bioeconomy makes it possible to improve productivity and sustainable use of biological resources by developing more productive, disease-resistant and environmentally friendly varieties of plants and animals. Plant breeding involving biotechnology and gene editing generates environmental benefits such as a reduction in pesticides use and an increase in soils sequestration and storage of CO2 (through a reduction in tillage). It is estimated that insect resistant crops reduced global pesticide use by 37%. Bioeconomy photosynthesis research that results in plants sequestering greater volumes of carbon dioxide and higher yields will ensure that crop production levels do not decline in the face of changing climates. Biofortified GM crops have been improving the nutritional quality of food, including increasing proteins, improving oils and fatty acids, increasing vitamin contents, and increasing mineral availability, with significant childhood health improvements.

Biobased value chain bring new activities into rural landscapes, diversifying income sources and the nature of existing employment opportunities, and contribute to address outmigration to urban centres.

Bioeconomy improves energy availability and affordability without competing with food production, and attracts other economic activities beyond biobased value chain activities. Bioenergy contributes to GHG reduction and could save 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions per year. Bioenergy represents 10% of the world's primary energy supply. In 2018, bioenergy generated 3.18 million jobs –equivalent to 30% of all jobs in the renewable energy sector, mostly in Latin America countries.

Biomass fractionation leads to an industry categorized as "multi-product", in which the production of co-products facilitates a better distribution in raw material production costs, making the system more efficient. Bioeconomy industry generates new bioproducts with high value-added used by the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, chemical and other industries. Biological pesticides and fertilizers contribute in the agricultural sector to protect biodiversity.

Safer agri-food systems are generated, as biofuels serve as a buffer of raw materials that can be use as food in case of crisis or crop losses. The production of biofuels has generated more stable demands for raw materials, generating additional sales channels. In 2020, 16% of corn production worldwide, 20% of sugar production, 19% of soybean oil and 16% of palm oil were destined toward biofuels.

Another sustainable bioeconomy contribution is the reduction and use of food waste. Food waste can be considered as a cheap feedstock for producing value-added products such as biofertilizers, biofuels, biomethane, biogas, and value-added chemicals.

The brief concludes that the differences in regulations of biotechnology, which often reflect different societal norms and values, constitute institutional barriers that are difficult to solve by one country alone, and that the UN Food Systems Summit is an opportunity to discuss the removal of institutional barriers.