Food crops might be making more chemical compounds in reaction to extreme weather – and this might be destroying our health, scientists have warned.
A brand-new report states that crops such as wheat and maize are creating more potential toxins as a response to protect themselves from extreme weather.
But these chemical compounds are dangerous to people and animals if consumed for a extended period of time, based on the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi.
‘Crops are responding to drought conditions and increases in temperature just like humans do when faced with a stressful situation,’ outlined Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist and director of the Division of Early Warning and Assessment at UNEP.
Under typical conditions, for example, plants transform nitrates they absorb into nutritious amino acids and proteins.
But extented drought slows or prevents this conversion, leading to more likely problematic nitrate racking up in the plant, the report stated.
If folks eat too much nitrate in their diets, it can hinder the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen in the body, the report stated.
Crops vulnerable to amassing too much nitrate in times of stress can include maize, wheat, barley, soybeans, millet and sorghum, it stated.
Some drought-stressed crops, when then subjected to abrupt large amounts of rain that lead to rapid growth, in turn gather hydrogen cyanide, more commonly known as prussic acid, the report stated.
Prussic acid – one of the ingredients utilized in some types of chemical warfare – disturbs oxygen flow in humans. Even short-term subjection can be debilitating for folks, McGlade stated.
Plants such as cassava, flax, maize and sorghum are most susceptible to dangerous prussic acid build up, the report stated.
Cases of nitrate or hydrogen cyanide poisoning in humans were documented in Kenya in 2013 and in the Philippines in 2005, McGlade stated. In Kenya, 2 children perished in coastal Kilifi after eating cassava that had raised levels of prussic acid in it subsequent extreme rainfall, based on local media reports.
Aflatoxins, molds that can affect plant crops and raise the risk of liver damage, cancer and blindness, as well as stunting foetuses and infants, also are dispersing to more locations as a result of shifting weather patterns as a result of climate change, scientists stated.
McGlade mentioned about 4.5 billion folks in developing countries are subjected to aflatoxins each year, though the amounts are largely unmonitored, and the numbers are growing.
‘We are just beginning to recognise the magnitude of toxin- related issues confronting farmers in developing countries of the tropics and sub-tropics,’ the report mentioned.
‘As warmer climate zones expand towards the poles, countries in more temperate regions are facing new threats,’ it incorporated.
In 2004, Kenya experienced severe outbreaks of aflatoxin poisoning, which disturbed more than 300 people and killed more than 100 following a prolonged drought, as outlined by the International Livestock Research Institute.
The UNEP statement stated Europe will be at growing risk from aflatoxins in locally grown crops if global temperatures rise by at least 2 degrees Celsius. The world is currently on a route to a more than 3 degree Celsius temperature rise, scientists trust.
An increase in toxic compounds in crops is probably to impact heavily on the world’s health system, which are already struggling with the consequences of food insecurity, Dorota Jarosinska of the World Health Organization’s European Center for Environment and Health stated in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Alex Ezeh, executive director of the African Population Health and Research Center, stated the increase in toxins in crops was a huge issue.
‘Toxic crops can lead to neurological diseases among humans but the greatest challenge is the incidence of cancer,’ he stated in an interview.
The document suggests a list of 8 concepts farmers and agricultural specialists can follow to try to limit damage from more crop toxins, such as mapping contamination hotspots and developing better proof about what is occurring currently with the toxins in their region.
Scientists also recommend that developing crop varieties designed to cope with extreme weather could help reduce the levels of toxic chemicals in food.
‘Research centers with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research are developing seeds that are suitable in various regions that have been hit by climate change,’ McGlade stated.
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