PM: We must accept risks

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Indy Politics

Britain was in grave danger of "blowing our chance" to become a world leader in biotechnology, Tony Blair warned as he called for a national debate on everyday risks faced by the public.

The Prime Minister, pointing to concerns such as genetically modified foods and the MMR jab, said: "We are in danger of having a wholly disproportionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a normal part of life."

Demanding an end to the "compensation culture", he promised ministers would reflect more before reacting to scandals or accidents.

The Government has pledged to spend £1bn on biotechnology by 2008, including on research on stem cells, with the aim of developing therapies for conditions such as cancer, Parkinson's disease and diabetes. "It is time to have a proper dialogue about how science and its risks are evaluated and reported. Biotechnology is probably the coming industry of the world," Mr Blair said in a speech in London to the Institute of Public Policy Research.

"Britain and Europe should be world leaders. We are in grave danger of blowing our chance. If we do, we will rue it bitterly."

The Government had a duty to be open in discussing such subjects, to produce its evidence and not exaggerate, he said. The media also had a responsibility in its reporting.

Every government decision involved "fine-grained risks and the balance of probability", Mr Blair said. "Unless we find a viable way of discussing these risks, a mature national conversation on important policy questions such as GM science will be impossible."

He also cited a report linking the MMR jab with autism that started a scare "despite the vast weight of evidence to the contrary".