Blair fails to woo animal researchers

January 23, 2004

A personal letter from the prime minister supporting animal research received a lukewarm response from scientists this week.

Senior scientists from the Biosciences Federation wrote to Tony Blair last December expressing concern about the potential impact of claims that the chief executive of the Medical Research Council, Colin Blakemore, had been passed over for a knighthood to avoid upsetting the animal-rights lobby.

The scientists had urged Mr Blair to make a strong public statement reiterating his support for responsible animal experimentation.

Mr Blair's letter, which arrived last week, said that the government's support for scientific animal research was stated very succinctly by science minister Lord Sainsbury last year.

The prime minister then went on to quote Lord Sainsbury's speech, saying that he concurred. But the PM failed to add a statement of support of his own.

Nancy Rothwell, the treasurer of the Biosciences Federation, said:

"Obviously we are delighted to receive this letter, but it might have been nice to get some direct comment (in the official letter) from the prime minister himself."

The letter was addressed to Sir Tom Blundell, director of the Biosciences Federation, who welcomed the reaffirmation of support. But he said: "It is a little bit unusual to have two paragraphs of direct quotation."

Attached to the typed letter was a handwritten note from Mr Blair. It said:

"As you know, I am fully supportive of the scientific community on these issues but I can't help what's in the press!"

Members of the federation were surprised by this comment. Professor Rothwell said: "The media coverage has been quite remarkable. First, it has been very extensive across all types of press, and second, it has been very supportive of animal experimentation."

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