ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  11 March 2001


ngin comment:  This looks like a reworking of that speech.
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Biotechnology is a weapon loaded with future

TONY BLAIR, Great Britain's Prime Minister
Copyright ClarÌn and La Repubblica, 2001

(Every time science overcomes a barrier, part of society feels threatened. Given the fears triggered by biotechnology, it is convenient to present some arguments that prove its massive benefits.)

Biotechnology is science's new frontier. Science and moral judgment together lead human progress. Scientific innovation has been the motor. Ethics, the guide. Science gave us the wheel, the steam engine, electricity, the computer. It also gave us nuclear weapons. But it is up to us to decide how to use these discoveries, and how to apply them.

What has history taught us? That science can be used for good and for evil. And that judgment can be harmful as well as moderate. Science without judgment can be dangerous. Progress without science will probably never exist.

On the edge of each new scientific discovery, usually one part of the public opinion perceives it as a threat. Now we are facing a frontier of this kind. The science of biotechnology will probably be, to the first half of the 21st century, what the computer was to the second half of the 20th century. Its implications are profound; its benefits, potential and massive. And, as always, some consider that certain aspects of a scientific research are innately undesirable and should be interrupted.

The answer should be to go back to general principles and say: let science discover the facts; then, let us give our opinion. But let us not judge before we have the facts. This should be valid, even in areas so difficult as GM agricultural products. I'm open-minded on this type of products.
There are legitimate concerns. But turning people who prevent key scientific research taking place into heroes is a mistake. It is using aggression instead of arguments.

We get the facts and then judge their moral consequences. There is a danger, without realizing it or even without intending to, that we turn against science. The distinction lies in the following: our conviction about what is natural or correct should not restrain the role of science in the discovery of truth; rather, information on the consequences of the truth discovered by science should be available. The mapping of the human genome showed a revolutionary future for genetic medicine, which can transform our health prospects. Given population growth, and peopleís higher expectations of their health, the world will always need the type of solutions biotechnology can provide.

Biotechnology can make medicine better and more effective. It can improve food production, even in the developing world. It can help clean up the environment. Biotechnology offers the possibility of an essential change in medicine. From diagnosis and therapy to discovery and prevention.

Thanks to biotechnology, we are closer to finding a vaccine against AIDS. In the next ten or twenty years, biotechnology will allow us to eradicate the main killers of society: cancer, heart diseases, and diabetes. Biotechnology is also a very strong weapon against degenerative diseases
such as Alzheimerís and Parkinsonís. People cannot only expect to live longer but also to lead a better life.

Biotechnology is an industry, whose market, in Europe alone, is expected to exceed US$ 100.000 million in 2005. The number of people involved in biotechnology and related activities, together with those whose work will depend on biotechnology applications, could reach three million, as part of a challenge to catch up with the American industry, currently eight times bigger than that of

We won't give in

Biotechnology would be impossible without research. Sometimes it is controversial, as with GM products or animal testing. This activity is regulated with strict measures. But my government will not tolerate extortion or physical assault by those who oppose it. To accept this would
mean to give in to intimidations. Reaping the commercial benefits of British scientific research also means supporting entrepreneurs who use new technology to be in the market.

The British Department of Trade and Industry also developed measures to promote biotechnology specifically and to deal better with industry planning. Biotechnology, like the rest of the knowledge economy, is undoubtedly global.

European biotechnology will be able to compete against that of the United States only if it can operate in a real single market. That is why we are elaborating joint proposals with Switzerland to take advantage of its presidency this year to include biotechnology in the agenda on the
economic reform agreed with Lisbon last March. If biotechnology must be developed, people should trust protective measures. They must be sure that potential benefits largely outnumber risks. That is why we strengthen the legal and regulatory framework.

Some months ago, we reviewed the current regulations and we set up the Human Genetics Commission and the Environmental Biotechnology Commission, to allow society express its points of view. In 1999 we decided to strengthen -through legislation- the ban on reproductive cloning.

But the implications for the public policy do not end here. The human genome is now freely available for everybody on the Internet. Great Britain has the opportunity to guide Europe as the
pioneer in this new technology, setting up the standards that govern it. It also has the possibility of being the core of science in Europe and the bridge between the European and the American sanitary market.

The prize of success in this field is not just commercial. We can stop continental epidemics like AIDS. We can tackle genetic diseases that reduce the lives of so many children. We can tackle the mass killers of our society-cancer, heart diseases- and offer future generations the prospect of an active old age. How to keep Great Britain at the forefront of biotechnology research is currently a debate among scientists. We have to value scientists and their work. They will describe to us the future scenario. Then we will be able to apply them for the sake of the progress of our people. This is the way science and society should work, and our Government is committed to it.

Copyright ClarÌn and La Repubblica, 2001. Translated by Claudia MartÌnez.
Forwarded by Roy Fuchs.

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