Blair tells violent eco-warriors they can't stop science

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has sent a stark signal to animal welfare and environmental groups that he will not allow "intimidation" to stand in the way of scientific progress.

Tony Blair has sent a stark signal to animal welfare and environmental groups that he will not allow "intimidation" to stand in the way of scientific progress.

The Prime Minister attacked "anti-science attitudes" and warned that the Government would not allow blackmail and physical assault to stand in the way of research.

Mr Blair offered his personal backing to Britain's biotechnology industry at the European Bioscience Conference in London yesterday.

He also warned the public of the dangers of slipping into "anti-science" attitudes which could deprive Britain of the benefits of cutting-edge research and technology.

Biotechnology not only offered the chance to combat disease but could bring huge economic benefits to Britain, he said. By 2005, the European biotechnology market could be worth $100bn and employ 3 million people.

But negative British attitudes towards science could lead to a brain drain abroad, he warned. "There is a danger, almost unintentionally, that we become anti-science," he said.

The Government "will not tolerate blackmail, even physical assault, by those who oppose it," he said. "To do so would be to give in to intimidation. To stand by as a successful British science once more ends up being manufactured abroad."

Mr Blair's remarks provoked an angry reaction from environmental groups which accused him of "slavishly" worshipping science.

Lord Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace, said that Mr Blair had forgotten a speech on the environment made three weeks ago where he said that science had to be balanced with "common values".

"Worshipping slavishly and unthinkingly at the seat of every new scientific fad is more damaging to science than the healthy questioning scepticism that most other countries show towards untried, unpredictable and uncontrollable technologies," Lord Melchett said.

Friends of the Earth said Mr Blair should not forget the impact that biotechnology, especially genetically modified foods, could have on the environment. "The Government has gone to great lengths in the past to support the development of GM crops - against the wishes of the majority of people in this country, said Pete Riley, "They need to be sure of what they are doing, and with this new and untested technology they are putting all their eggs in one basket."

Mr Blair called for a "far more considered, rational dialogue" between scientists and the public about the need for research and development.

The Prime Minister said he had an "open mind" on GM foods and accepted there were legitimate concerns. Animal testing and research on the genetic modification of crops should be tightly regulated, he said.

But, in an overt attack on campaigners against animal testing and GM food, the Prime Minister said that it was wrong to "make heroes of people who are preventing basic scientific research taking place. It is to substitute aggression for argument," he said.

Mr Blair said that people had to recognise that in controversial areas such as stem cell research there could be "more than one morally acceptable outcome".