Select Committee on European Communities Second Report - Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Royal Netherlands Embassy


  1. With a growing number of biotechnology firms and a corresponding number of third-party suppliers geared to serving the industry, the Netherlands boasts a strong setting for biotechnology. In the early 1980s the number of companies undertaking biotechnology activities numbered fewer than ten. Now there are several hundred. Of these, approximately 30 are New Biotechnology Firms (NBFs) operating predominantly in the fields of diagnostics and therapeutics, plant biotechnology and environmental biotechnology. Together, established companies and NBF, which are known for their innovative developments cover all the major areas in which biotechnology is applied, including the agroindustry, chemistry, the food/feed industry, pharmaceuticals, human/veterinary health care and the environment. A further reason for the industry's growth is that the Netherlands' service and supplier base is well-equipped to assist biotechnology companies with a range of activities. Third-party providers and a full range of consultants offer companies product development assistance, the manufacture of batch products for safety testing or clinical trials, and advice on regulatory matters, logistics, marketing and export issues. An effective legal framework guarantees that all modern Dutch biotechnology products have been approved for safety before they are allowed on the market.

  2. The five main sectors within the Dutch biotechnology industry all anticipate a major rise in biotechnology-related turnover. By 2010, the share of turnover generated by biotechnology will be largest in the pharmaceutical industry (approximately 30 per cent), but the foodstuffs industry and agricultural sector also anticipate a sharp rise in biotechnology-related turnover, expected to grow from 2-3 per cent in 1996 to almost 20-30 per cent in 2010. This will put them ahead of the environmental and fine chemical sectors, where biotechnology-related turnover still far exceeded that in the agricultural and foodstuffs sectors in 1996. The economic impact of modern biotechnology is expected to be felt most strongly in all four of these sectors. The agri-food sector still only makes limited use of the economic potential of modern biotechnology. Innovation within this sector is a risk-bearing opportunity and consistently produces only small changes. In addition, classic methods still offer sufficient scope for development in the processing and supply industry.


  3. Many Dutch biotechnology firms are export-oriented and are international market leaders. Almost 90 per cent of the Dutch biotechnology companies have one or more permanent bases abroad. Additionally, many leading foreign companies have located their European biotechnology activities in the Netherlands, testifying to the country's excellent biotechnological infrastructure and industrial setting. The main export markets for Dutch biotechnology products are Germany, Spain, France and Belgium.


  4. Early investment by the Dutch government has resulted in a well-developed biotechnology research community. The total number of industrial and academic scientists involved in biotechnology in the Netherlands is estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000. Almost 290 companies in the Netherlands conduct biotech research, involving between 1,500 and 2,000 people. These numbers are expected to increase by 25 per cent over the next few years, particularly in the field of food, agriculture, pharmaceutical applications and the environment. In their research, companies co-operate extensively with universities and research institutes. One of the advanced areas of research in the Netherlands is that of environmental biotechnology. Dutch universities have gathered a large amount of research data on various types of bacteria which can break down pollutants. This knowledge has been successfully developed by one or two environmental companies into reliable high-performance waste-water treatment systems, biological air filters and soil clean-up methods. Further research in environmental technology is currently focusing on the recovery of primary raw materials, in situ treatment methods and process improvements leading to a decrease in by-products, pollutants and waste. The Dutch biotechnology researchers participate actively in the life science subsectors of the European Commission's R&D Framework programme. They are frequently sought as co-ordinators for transnational multidisciplinary co-operation projects, which describes the majority of projects encouraged in these sectors. Industrial biotechnology researchers from Dutch companies are usually among the most active and constructive participants in the European industrial platforms.


  5. The Dutch educational system provides a rich training ground for highly skilled staff in the biotechnology sector. There is a high level of participation in vocational programmes in the Netherlands.

  6. Students can sign up for biotechnology courses at 22 centres for higher vocational training. Such courses focus specifically on biotechnology or are part of the regular curricula in industrial technology, environmental technology, medical technology, agricultural technology, bioprocess technology and plant and animal production. The Netherlands is the only country in Europe that offers laboratory training in dedicated higher vocational laboratory schools.

  7. Eight Dutch universities offer biotechnology-oriented programmes and extensive training in the disciplines supporting biotechnology, such as biology/chemistry, chemical technology, pharmacy, medicine, veterinary science and food technology.

  8. Five biotechnology graduate schools (Centres of Excellence) offer advanced, second-phase biotechnology curricula for post-doctorate and Ph.D students which aim to meet industrial needs and are based on the latest scientific knowledge. Annually they each train approximately 100 Ph.D students and 40 post-graduates.

SectorTurnover in
billions of guilders
Estimated Per cent
 biotechnology-related turnover
1996 Per cent 2000 Per cent2010 Per cent

Pharmaceutical4.99-10 20-2234-38
Food/feed753-6 10-1225-30
Chemical406-13 12-1820-27
Agriculture362-9 7-1820-38
Environment84-9 10-1518-21


NIABA (The Netherlands Industrial and Agricultural Biotechnology Association)

PO Box 443

2260 AK Leidschendam

The Netherlands

Tel +31 70327 0464

Fax +31 70 317 7325


Sources include: NIABA, Ministry of Economic Affairs

May 1997

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