October 19, 2006

Mexico rebuffs Monsanto

From a recent article here
MEXICO CITY - Mexico this week barred Monsanto Co. and other biotechnology companies from planting genetically engineered corn, rekindling fierce debate in that country over the technology.
Environmentalists said the government's decision will help prevent biotech corn from contaminating native varieties in Mexico, the birthplace of corn and still a storehouse of genetically valuable native species.

But as expected
This is temporary, because there is so much pressure from the multinationals," said Gustavo Ampugnani of Greenpeace Mexico

We were surprised by this decision," said Eduardo Perez Pico, director of technological development at Monsanto's Mexico subsidiary, which had applied to start experimental fields in the northern states of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas.

"These are not centers of origin or biodiversity of corn," Perez Pico said, referring to the areas where corn ancestor plants or primitive varieties grow naturally.

Under current law, such areas are off-limits to biotech planting, in part to protect the genetic traits of those ancestor varieties in case their traits are needed for hybridization efforts in the future.

To put things in perspective
Farmers in Mexico first bred corn some 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. The country is home to at least 59 species of maize, from the protein-rich variety used to make tortilla chips to a softer grain mashed for use in tamales.

Introduction of genetically modified (GM ) corn can wipe off this biodiversity and make the farmers dependant on GM seeds and pesticide like Roundup . From the article , the debate is far from over , this ruling just points out to a bigger fight . Multinationals in the business of GM food are in for a long haul with opinions being changed and data being conditioned
A study in the Sierra de Juarez region in the southern state of Oaxaca found evidence of transgenic corn contamination in 2000 from corn that was apparently imported for food use. The study was published and then retracted by the science journal Nature.

Another study by Mexican and U.S. researchers in 2004 found no trace of genetically altered corn in crops in the same area four years later.

Read about Monsanto in a previous post here .

October 15, 2006

Safdie Plan

So decision is nearing over the controversial Safdie Plan for adding 20,000 dwelling units to the west of Jerusalem . Adding 20,000 units is not what ails the plan , the city does face a serious shortage of residential units which eventually leads to the young secular population of Jerusalem to drift away . The problem is that the plan takes up 26 sq. km of forests , green areas and archeological sites . Read the story about it in
haaretz .

According to a number of studies the city is capable of taking in the planned 20,000 units within the current municipal boundaries . In fact according to the study prepared by Sustainable Jerusalem , compiled by urban planners Uri Barsheshet and Yael Hammerman, the city is capable of absorbing 58,000 additional housing units . Urban densification can help the city in many ways .

  • Adding to the existing housing stock would offer more oppurtunities for the young population to buy/rent affordable housing

  • Densification would allow for a more efficient public transport system. The city at the moment is spread up making it difficult to have an efficient public transport .As a result the more and more people rely on private vehicles .

  • The municipality at the moment is quite iefficent in providing services to the city . Spreading the municipal limits would only spread their services thinner.

According to the Israel Union for Environmental Defence

Quality of life in Jerusalem has been deteriorating due the current municipality's failure to maintain cleanlines and to provide municipal services. Only focused investment in making Jerusalem a liveable, pleasant place to be will stop the tide of residents moving away to other towns. Construction of new neighborhoods to be run by the same municipality that is disappointing residents today will only exacerbate urban woes in Jerusalem.

But clearly there are vested interests in this plan . The municipality is interested inseeing the plan through as it increases its clout over areas not under it's jurisdiction at the moment . Ehud Olmert , the erstwhile Mayor of the city , sees he project as a major accomplishment of his tenure , no way is he going to be swayed out of his grandiose vision . A plan of such a magnitude means a tremendous amount of money changing handss , no wonder the construction industry is so much in favour of it . And last but not the least , there is nothing heroic or glamorous about densifiction , everyone wants a Haussman or a Corbusier who with a deft stroke of the brush can create a city out of nowhere . But before we do that we should take a look at Safdie's Modiin and think again if we want another housing project that pretends to be a city .