Some effects of climate change may include food crops becoming toxic, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Program, released during a recent United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi. According to the report, some food crops are reacting to extreme weather conditions by creating chemical compounds that can make them more dangerous to consumers.
This report cites wheat, maize (corn), barley, millet, flax, cassava, and sorghum in particular as crops that are generating potential toxins as protection from extreme weather conditions, explains Reuters.
These toxins include nitrates, which are generally absorbed by plants and converted into amino acids and proteins; but due to drought, this process is slowed, and nitrates accumulate in the plants, thus becoming transmittable to consumers.
"Crops are responding to drought conditions and increases in temperature just like humans do when faced with a stressful situation,” explained Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist and director of the Division of Early Warning and Assessment at UNEP.
But the problems do not end when rain falls; some crops accumulate hydrogen cyanide following prolonged drought suddenly ended by large amounts of rain.
Aflatoxins, which are molds that can affect plant crops, are a further issue already present in many areas close to the equator. These molds may soon be reaching Europe if global temperatures rise by as little as 2 degrees Celsius, something that many scientists say is a real possibility in the next few years.
"As warmer climate zones expand towards the poles, countries in more temperate regions are facing new threats," the report said of the effects of climate change on agriculture in these regions.
Nitrates can be very dangerous to humans when exposed to high heat through cooking, which turns them into nitrosamines, most of which are potent carcinogens.
Hydrogen cyanide, also known as Prussic acid, is a highly poisonous compound that is a precursor to sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide, used mainly in gold and silver mining. Hydrogen cyanide is also contained in the exhaust of vehicles and in tobacco smoke.
Aflatoxins are produced by certain fungi and are associated with an increased risk of liver cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
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Wheat fields image via Shutterstock