A new United Nations study shows that the quality of food crops was affected by climate change. Plants try to adapt to the new weather conditions, and in the process, they release more and more toxins that are encapsulated in their fruits, leaves, and roots.
High temperatures can increase the levels of toxins in crops, in a way similar to how humans respond to stress. Recent studies showed that plants have higher levels of prussic acid, aflatoxins, and other toxic chemicals.
The UN report investigates six issues emerging from climate change, among which crop toxicity, plastic pollution, toxic algal blooms, and zoonotic diseases. The UN hints at the importance of the financial sector in securing a low-carbon future for our planet.
The economic implications are thought to be the highest in developing countries which rely mostly on agricultural activities.
Prolonged drought can lead to nitrate accumulations in wheat, maize, barley and millet. The increased levels of nitrates have a heavy impact on animals, producing asphyxiation, miscarriages, and even death.
On the other hand, heavy rains can lead to deposits of prussic acid and hydrogen cyanide in cherries, apples, maize, and other crops.
Another concern is the increased occurrence of aflatoxins, a fungus that can lead to cancer and that affects fetal growth. The toxin thrives in lower latitudes, and it is believed to be enhanced by higher temperatures. The fungus is found in maize crops.
In developing nations, nearly 4.5 billion people are exposed to aflatoxins each year. One of the countries is Kenya, where in 2004 more than one hundred people died because of the aflatoxins. In this case, the toxin’s levels were increased by an extended period of drought.
The UN study shows that as the warmer climate zones advance from the Equator to the Poles due to global warming, countries that have a temperate climate may also face the appearance of aflatoxins.
The increased toxicity in food crops will have an adverse impact on the global health system. The UN advises farmer communities to monitor the levels of toxins and to eliminate the hotspots of contamination.
Another method to reduce the disastrous effects of climate warming in plants is crop rotation, which is supposed to refresh the soil nutrient levels.
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