EU agri-innovation policy: two contending visions of the bio-economy

Levidow, Les; Birch, Kean and Papaioannou, Theo (2012). EU agri-innovation policy: two contending visions of the bio-economy. Critical Policy Studies, 6(1) pp. 40–65.



The knowledge-based bio-economy has gained prominence as a research and innovation policy of the European Union. As a policy framework the knowledge-based bio-economy has attracted two contending visions, which can be analyzed as imaginaries – strategic discourses prefiguring a possible, desirable future. In the dominant vision, life sciences will enhance productivity for European competitive advantage in global value chains. A rival vision links agroecology and shorter food supply chains, as a means for farmers to gain more from the value that they add. Each vision favors a different diagnosis of unsustainable agriculture and eco-efficient remedies. Each extends a different paradigm of agri-innovation, foreseeing an economic community that can gain from future markets. These two contending visions give different meanings to the same key terms – knowledge, biological resources and economy. In the EU’s research program for a knowledge-based bio-economy, a life sciences vision dominates the priorities, though agroecology has also gained a significant place in response to proposals from stakeholder networks. Through these efforts, research policy priorities have been opened up to more plural agri-innovation pathways.

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