Science  23 Jul 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5427, pp. 505

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  1. To GM or Not?

    Scientists from around the globe are planning a joint statement on the potential risks and benefits of genetically modified (GM) agriculture. Representatives from seven scientific academies last week attended a London conclave organized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the U.K.'s Royal Society to ponder the issues surrounding GM foods, which have sparked controversy in many nations. The delegates—from the U.S., the U.K., China, Brazil, India, Mexico, and the 76-nation Third World Academy of Sciences—agreed that each academy will focus on a topic, such as environmental concerns, then report back. The full group hopes to issue a statement by November. Developing nations should “take the lead” in writing the document, urged NAS head Bruce Alberts, saying it is a chance “for their voices to be heard.”

    Meanwhile, in the wake of reports that corn engineered to carry pesticides might harm butterflies and other wildlife, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman last week announced plans for “an independent scientific review” of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's process for reviewing the safety of GM organisms. The department also plans to launch eight to 12 research centers to do long-term studies of biotech farm products.

  2. Disaster Scenario?

    Physicists want to dispel worries that a new particle collider will destroy Earth. This week, the Sunday Times of London published an 18 July story suggesting that experiments at the soon-to-be-completed Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York could create rare particles or mini-black holes that would devour the planet. Lab director John Marburger quickly took to the Internet to respond ( “There is no chance that any phenomenon produced by RHIC will lead to disaster,” he wrote. Still, just to be sure, he has asked “experts in the relevant fields” to prepare a report on the disaster scenario, which was first aired in a letter in this month's Scientific American.