May 20, 2002
Prime Minister Tony Blair says he is ready to defend Britain's scientific fraternity against attacks by misguided environmental and animal rights campaigners he accuses of standing in the way of progress.
In an interview published Monday in The Times newspaper, Blair said campaigners would not be allowed to jeopardize legitimate scientific advances. "It is completely unacceptable for people to try to disrupt and destroy legitimate research on which these issues will ultimately be judged,"
The Times quoted him as saying. "It is time to speak up for science." In the past few years, protesters have destroyed government-sponsored test fields of genetically modified crops, and animal rights activists have threatened scientists conducting research on animals, in one case setting off a car bomb. Some critics have also blamed scientists for allowing the development of bovine spongiform encepalopathy, or "mad cow" disease, which has been attributed to the practice of mixing ground up sheep remains into cattle feed.
The Times said the prime minister is privately furious at such protests. "It is time ... to make clear that the government is not going to allow misguided protests against science to get in the way of confronting the challenges of making the most of our opportunities," it quoted him as saying. Blair did not elaborate on steps that could be taken to protect scientists.
In recent speeches, he has taken a very strong line, saying the government will not tolerate any form of blackmail or physical assault by those who oppose vital research. Blair is due to return to the theme when he delivers a major speech on Thursday in which he is expected to warn that research work could be lost to the rest of Europe if activists go unchallenged. He also is expected to call for an end to public ignorance that breeds suspicion and mistrust, and to promise to continue investing in research and development.