Climate change poisons our food, according to a recent report published by the United Nations Environmental Program. It seems that environmental and human health are more connected than previously thought. The study warns that rising temperatures worldwide cause the common grain crops to generate dangerous toxins.
The higher than ever temperatures we are now enduring, together with drought, trigger the accumulation of toxic components in crops, according to the report. Scientists say that the plants are just trying to safeguard themselves by creating harmful chemical compounds.
Drought slows down nitrate conversions in the plants, which leads to a high level of nitrate build-up. This makes the crops toxic to both humans and animals. Too much nitrate in the human diet can interfere with the red blood cells’ ability to transport oxygen to the body. Under normal conditions, crops convert nitrates into nutritious amino acids and proteins. Plants susceptible to accumulating high amounts of nitrate are maize, wheat, soybeans, barley, millet, and sorghum.
Nitrate is not the only toxic chemical which might harm us. Heavy rain after drought leads to the accumulation of hydrogen cyanide (also known as prussic acid). Prussic acid interferes with the oxygen flow, and as much as a short exposure can have debilitating effects on people. plants susceptible to accumulating hydrogen cyanide are maize, cassava, flax, and sorghum.
Aflatoxins, the molds affecting crops, can raise the risk of liver damage, blindness, and even cancer. Around 4.5 billion people from developing countries are exposed to these toxins every year. In 2004, more than 300 people were affected, and more than 100 died after an aflatoxin poisoning outbreak in Kenya.
The countries most prone to aflatoxin exposure are those set in temperate regions. This means that Europe is facing a food safety threat. But the increased toxicity in crops is expected to have a significant impact on the global health system. Climate change poisons our food worldwide, and health measures need to be taken.
The report also proposes a list of eight solutions to the problem. These ideas include mapping contamination hotspots and developing crop varieties designed for extreme weather. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, along with research centers, are now developing seeds suitable for various regions that are facing climate change.
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