Science  11 May 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5826, pp. 815

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  1. Transgenic Hay Mowed

    1. Dan Charles

    A federal court extended a ban on planting of genetically engineered alfalfa last week. Alfalfa that has been altered to tolerate applications of the herbicide glyphosate will only be allowed back on the market after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finishes a detailed environmental impact study. USDA says that could take 2 years.

    The agency approved so-called Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2005, but 3 months ago, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, California, ruled that the study should have come first (Science, 16 March, p. 1479). The judge in the case, Charles Breyer, imposed a temporary ban on planting in March and last week made the order permanent.

    USDA will now examine the risk that increasing use of glyphosate will produce glyphosate-resistant weeds, as well as the economic impact on farmers of cross-pollination between conventional and genetically engineered alfalfa plants, especially those grown to produce seed. Several alfalfa seed producers in Idaho have reported finding traces of the Roundup Ready gene in stocks of conventional seed. In last week's decision, Breyer wrote that “such contamination is irreparable environmental harm.” John Turner, an official with the USDA office that regulates transgenic crops, said that the judge “is asking questions that we haven't had to answer before,” but he called the assignment “doable.” USDA is considering hiring outside experts to help with the study.

  2. A Commission Before Munitions

    1. Eli Kintisch

    A House defense panel wants the Bush Administration to slow down its plans to build a new nuclear weapon. Last week, it voted to cut $45 million from the president's $88 million request for research on the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) and use some of the money for more study.

    The proposed blue-ribbon commission would “create a public discussion about future requirements for nuclear weapons,” said Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA). Some opponents were hoping for more: “The subcommittee is taking a 'go slow' approach on the RRW rather than the 'no go' approach the program deserves,” says a spokesperson for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    Now the focus shifts to a House spending panel, where chair Peter Visclosky (D-IN) has made known his doubts. The Senate's position is less clear.