As Carbon Emissions Rise, Food Quality Goes Down
For about 76 percent of the world’s population, plants like rice, wheat, and other crops are primary sources of protein. Now, a study conducted at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests that if carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are not reduced, 18 countries could lose more than 5 percent of their dietary protein sources by 2050 as the nutritional value of these crops declines.
The researchers discovered that elevated CO2 concentrations decrease the protein content of rice by 7.6 percent, wheat by 7.8 percent, barley by 14.1 percent, and potatoes by 6.4 percent. Results of the study suggest people living in Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia—including about 53 million in India—will be at continued or new risk for protein deficiency.
A companion study, published in GeoHealth, indicates that reduced iron content in staple food crops—which is also related to elevated CO2 levels—is likely to worsen the significant problem of iron deficiency anemia worldwide. At highest risk are 354 million children under 5 and 1.06 billion women of childbearing age in South Asia and North Africa—areas expected to lose more than 3.8 percent of dietary iron due to CO2 emissions.