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Blair Blasts Anti-Science Attitude

November 17, 2000

LONDON (AP) _ Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Friday that Britain is in danger of ``becoming anti-science,″ an attitude he said could rob the country of its role in cutting-edge research projects.

Addressing the European Bioscience Conference in London, Blair acknowledged that ``legitimate concerns″ exist about new technologies, such as genetically modified foods, but said these should not prevent scientists from carrying out necessary research.

``Our conviction about what is natural or right should not inhibit the role of science in discovering the truth _ rather it should inform our judgment about the implications and consequences of the truth science uncovers,″ Blair said.

In the past year, protesters have destroyed government-sponsored test fields of genetically modified crops. Activists have threatened scientists conducting research on animals, in one case setting off a car bomb, and Parliament is considering whether to allow scientists to clone embryos for research purposes, a debate that has divided the scientific community.

``There is a danger, almost unintentionally, that we become anti-science,″ Blair warned.

He said he had an ``open mind″ on genetically modified foods, and cautioned that there could be ``more than one morally acceptable outcome″ in areas such as stem cell research on embryos.

``Sometimes it is controversial, as with GM crops or animal testing. Such research is rightly strictly regulated,″ Blair said. ``But this government will not tolerate blackmail, even physical assault, by those who oppose it. To do so would be to give in to intimidation.″

A British group that monitors genetic-engineering issues, GeneWatch UK, said Blair didn’t understand the public’s concerns.

``It isn’t an anti-science sentiment. People realize there could be huge benefits from genetic science,″ spokeswoman Sue Mayer said. ``What the concern is about is whether the government and its institutions can steer the difficult course through the ethical issues, so we get the benefits and not the downside.″

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