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Study: Climate Change Impacting Crops

A new report says deficiencies of iron, zinc and protein already are affecting almost 2 billion people around the world with large burdens of disease. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
A new report says deficiencies of iron, zinc and protein already are affecting almost 2 billion people around the world with large burdens of disease. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
August 23, 2017

MADISON, Wis. - journals.plos.orgA report that looks in depth at how climate change is robbing crops of nutrition says there will be 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 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," Myers 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 our climate system but fisheries, oceans and 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 npr.org and journals.plos.org.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI