The European Union is in serious danger of lagging behind the US in biotechnology industries, the European Commission said yesterday [Wednesday].

In a strategy paper revealed yesterday, the Commission acknowledged that public concern over biotechnology was holding back its evolution in the EU. The paper sets out a 30-page action plan designed to overcome the problem by 2010.

Europe's biotech sector is currently worth just €7-8bn (US$6.1-7.0bn), approximately a third of the US biotech industry.

Concerns over the high-profile end of the sector, such as genetically modified food, have delayed consumer acceptance. The Commission clearly sees a business case for moving forward. "Uncertainty about societal acceptance had stifled our competitive position, weakened our research capability and could limit our policy options in the longer term," the commission said in its strategy paper.

The Commission is keen to make sure the EU gets a decent slice of the lucrative biotech industries, which could be worth €2 trillion by 2010. However, the 15 nations which make up the European Union will need to move fast to help foster the growth of the sector. Initiatives suggested in the strategy paper include Member States reinforcing specialised education, increasing research and development and funnelling more risk capital to the biotech sector.

"Europe has a base of excellence to build on. But it has not been terribly efficient at turning scientific excellence into economically competitive products," European Commission President Romano Prodi stated at a press conference.

The commission has already committed part of its 2002-2006 research budget to such technologies, reports Reuters, and is also calling on the European Investment Bank to strengthen the capital base of the industry.