March 22, 2023

This is the executive summary from a new BEA feasibility study report on measuring the bioeconomy.

In recent years, interest in biotechnology, biomanufacturing, and the bioeconomy has grown steadily. Researchers in the U.S. and other countries have sought to measure the bioeconomy and have developed a variety of definitions and approaches for doing so. Executive Order 14081, issued September 12, 2022, directs the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to assess “the feasibility, scope, and costs of developing a national measurement of the economic contributions of the bioeconomy” (White House 2022).

BEA produces measures of specialized slices of the economy through its system of satellite accounts, which provide focused insights not directly apparent in BEA’s official National Income and Product Accounts (NIPAs). This report analyzes the “feasibility, scope, and costs” of developing a satellite account for the bioeconomy.

Defining the subject of interest is often the most important phase of a satellite account because it provides the overall framework for the new account and influences the goods and services chosen to be part of the resultant economic statistics. In the case of the bioeconomy, researchers, potential data-users, and other stakeholders have different (and competing) ideas of how the bioeconomy should be defined and which industries should be included or excluded.

These different ideas can be summarized into three distinct visions for the bioeconomy: biotechnology, bioresources, and bioecology (National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) 2020, Bugge, Hansen and Klitkou 2016). The biotechnology vision focuses on emerging industries and products enabled by innovation in the life sciences, particularly in genetic engineering; in this vision, established industries such as agriculture and forestry are typically not included. The bioresources vision focuses on understanding the flow of biological resources, such as biomass and biofuels, through the economy; in this vision, the agriculture and forestry industries are included as foundational components of the bioeconomy. Finally, the bioecology vision focuses on the contributions of the bioeconomy to sustainability and the environment; this vision may specifically exclude some products or industries, such as genetically engineered crops (NASEM 2020).

This report finds that developing a comprehensive bioeconomy satellite account encompassing all concepts of the bioeconomy appears technically feasible. Such a broad approach would roughly correspond to similar efforts by the European Union and other international organizations but would not address data users’ preferences for an account more focused on a specific vision of the bioeconomy. Developing a consistent, ongoing bioeconomy satellite account broken down along the lines of specific visions of the bioeconomy, such as biotechnology, is likely infeasible at this time due to both a lack of existing data on which to base such an account and a lack of consensus on practical measurement definitions.