Blair backs UK biotechnology

November 14, 2003

Prime minister Tony Blair this week reassured UK scientists that he fully supports biotechnology after academics wrote to him complaining that genetic modification research was under threat.

Mr Blair was replying to a letter from 114 scientists protesting about the way scientific evidence had been overlooked in the highly public GM debate.

He said biotechnology had great potential for UK industry and said he believed genetics would be the most important science in the first half of the 21st century.

But he stalled when it came to responding to specific concerns raised by the scientists on why the government had not responded to the GM farm-scale evaluation results. He said it was waiting for the assessment of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment later this year before making a formal response.

The letter was sent last month by Sense About Science, a group set up last year to campaign for an evidence-based approach to scientific controversies.

The lead signatory, Derek Burke, former vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and former chair of the government's GM advisory committee, was encouraged by the rapid response from Mr Blair. "It was a positive statement. He said quite clearly that they will make decisions based on sound scientific evidence even though the government has come under criticism from those who want to ban GM," he said.

Professor Burke said ministers had let the debate run away and added that he hoped lessons had been learnt from the way GM discussions had been conducted.

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