Did you know climate change could be poisoning your food? According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report on Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern, rising temperatures are making crops more toxic.
Crops are taking a wild hit with the rising temperatures. An increase of a mere 2ºC is enough to severely damage harvests! Increased temperatures cause a rise in CO2, and that high concentration of CO2 decreases the nutritional value of crops and even worst could make areas unsuitable for growing crops.
What this means is, the extreme shift in the weather causes stress to the plants. Normally, plants convert nitrate into amino acids and protein. However, drought slows the conversion causing nitrates to accumulate and become toxic to animals, the report said. While heavy rains may break the drought cycle, it often results in a build-up of hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid.
The weather impact also fosters the growth of another category of toxins— mycotoxins, which infect many crops including coffee, groundnut, maize, oil seeds, peanut, sorghum, tree nuts and wheat. The slightest concentration makes crops unsafe for human or animal consumption.
Mycotoxins are natural, generated toxins from certain strains of mold that can form on agricultural products. As a metabolite by-product of mold, the formation of mycotoxins is highly dependent on regional temperatures, rainfall, moisture levels, storage, and transportation conditions of raw and finished food products. Although some types of mycotoxins or mycotoxin derivatives are used in pharma, including the production of antibiotics and growth promotants —its poisons are produced by fungi and still can present health risks to both human and animals, sometimes even fatal.
While mycotoxins mainly occur in tropical areas, interestingly, the UNEP report found rising temperatures coupled with unpredictable precipitation—downpours and droughts—could help mycotoxins like aflatoxin thrive in more temperate areas, like Europe.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer report, states that about 500 million of the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia are exposed to the pervasive natural toxins, aflatoxins, and fumonisins, on a daily basis by eating their staple diet of groundnuts, maize, and other cereals.
As today’s world, food is excessively and easily crossing borders from country to country regardless of adequate quality control, weather conditions, improper crop harvesting, storage practices resulting in toxic mold contamination; thus the rising concern for mycotoxins is no surprise. To put it into perspective in 2011, US scientists found aflatoxins, a type of mycotoxin in almonds from orchards in California, a region that supplies about 80% of the world’s crop. Aflatoxin are highly toxic, carcinogenic and deadly fungi produced by the fungus Aspergillus, which grows in soil and decaying vegetation, often contaminating crops such as peanuts, dried nuts and grains.
The BIOMIN Mycotoxin Survey 2015 covers more than eight thousand samples taken from 75 countries worldwide.
There’s no denying the prevalence of mycotoxins in almost all types of agricultural feedstuffs It is a major global concern and the health impact of mycotoxin contamination “Has been neglected for too long.”
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J. Challinor, J. Watson, D. B. Lobell, S. M. Howden, D. R. Smith, N. Chhetri. A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation. Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI:10.1038/NCLIMATE2153