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Report: Crops Are Turning Toxic Due To Extreme Weather Conditions

Jun 07, 2016 08:44 AM EDT
The impact of climate change is showing itself on our food, too. Not just on meager produce, but with toxic reactions of crops to environmental stresses.
(Photo : Flickr/Creative Commons/Skånska Matupplevelser)

The United Nations recently warned that extreme weather conditions are prompting crops to release toxins, and eating these crops is detrimental to human health.

The toxins that crops release is a reaction to protect themselves from the drought and high temperatures.

"Crops are responding to drought conditions and increases in temperature just like humans do when faced with a stressful situation," said Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist and director of the Division of Early Warning and Assessment at UN Environment Programme.

According to the report, wheat, barley, maize and millet are among the crops most susceptible to nitrate accretion, which is caused by lingering drought.

Nitrate is an inorganic compound that occurs under a variety of conditions in the environment. Even a short-term exposure to it may be harmful, especially to infants.

Nitrates are generally not dangerous to the body. But when ingested, it becomes a concern as nitrates are converted to nitrites. According to a study published in Pesticide Safety Education Program, their immature digestive systems of infants are more likely to allow the reduction of nitrate to nitrite. In particular, the presence of nitrite in the digestive tract of newborns can lead to a disease called methemoglobinemia, which can be fatal.

Eating nitrite-rich foods like processed meats can increase your risk of stomach and esophageal cancer, according to Live Strong.

In animals, nitrate consumption can lead to miscarriage and death, which directly affects the livelihood of farmers.

Meanwhile, heavy rains that break prolonged drought can also result in the hazardous buildup of another toxic compound called hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid. These are produced by crops like flax, maize, sorghum, arrow grass, cherries and apples.

Hydrogen cyanide is a systemic chemical asphyxiant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, delayed effects of exposure to it may include brain damage due lack of oxygen, or possibly due to insufficient blood circulation.

Finally, aflatoxins are another emerging problem in crops. These are fungal toxins that can cause cancer and stunt fetal growth. The new finding is threatening especially to the 30 million people who are already starving due to meager crop yields and an insufficient amount of food aid.

Countries in more temperate regions endure these new threats and dangers even more.

The UN report also identified zoonotic diseases and plastic pollution as budding issues that the world now faces due to climate change.

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