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Study: Climate Change Stripping Crops of Nutrients

Experts say human activity is changing the structure and function of many of our natural systems, resulting in fewer nutrients in crops. (Richard Hurd/Flickr)
Experts say human activity is changing the structure and function of many of our natural systems, resulting in fewer nutrients in crops. (Richard Hurd/Flickr)
August 9, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. - A report that looks in depth at how climate change is robbing crops of nutrition is predicting more hungry people and more suffering linked to vitamin deficiencies.

Samuel Myers, an environmental health researcher at Harvard University's School of Public Health, conducted a study in 2014 that found higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are likely to reduce the protein, iron and zinc content of rice, wheat, peas and other food. Myers now has taken that a step further, calculating through the year 2050 the number of people within each country that won't be getting enough nutrients. He said the impact will be felt mostly by the poor.

"It's the wealthier people around the world who have the largest carbon footprints and the poorest people who are the most vulnerable to their effects," he said, "and so there really is a social justice or equity element to this."

According to the report, more than 350 million children aged 1 to 5 and about 1 billion women of child-bearing age live in countries where the amount of dietary iron is projected to fall by about 4 percent.

Myers said human activity is changing the structure and function of many of our natural systems.

"It's not just the climate system but fisheries, oceans, land cover and freshwater systems," he said, "and as those changes become more and more profound around the world, they're having very significant human health implications."

Myers called nutrient deficiencies deadly, and said this is something policy makers can't ignore.

"Deficiencies of iron and zinc and protein are already affecting almost 2 billion people around the world with very, very large burdens of disease," he said. "So this is a big public health problem today. It will be an even bigger problem in the future."

Myers said developing crop varieties with higher nutrient contents is one solution, but added that there's no silver bullet to the issue. He said the most obvious answer is to drastically cut carbon pollution.

The report is online at journals.plos.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE