The increase of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2050 will reduce the nutritional qualities of many crops, which could create deficiencies of zinc, iron and protein in millions of people, warns Monday a study in Nature Climate Change .
According to researchers at Harvard University who have looked at 225 different foods, the rise in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which could reach 550 parts per million (ppm) around 2050 versus 405 ppm in 2017, “Should reduce the iron, protein and zinc content of many staple crops by 3 to 17%”.
This drop in the nutritional quality of food would translate into “a zinc deficiency in 175 million people, but also a protein deficiency in 122 million people by 2050, while exacerbating the existing deficiencies in more than a billion of people “.
These people would add to the 662 million already suffering from protein deficiency, 1.5 billion zinc deficiencies and 2 billion iron deficiency worldwide.
“Deficiencies in zinc affect the immune system, so children are more likely to catch diseases such as respiratory infections, malaria or diarrheal diseases,” says researcher Matthew Smith, interviewed by AFP.
“An iron deficiency can cause anemia” or increase mortality during deliveries, he says. Lack of protein, often coupled with undernourishment, can result in stunted growth in children.
The most endangered regions are North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with countries such as India, Indonesia, or China, according to this study, which is explained by habits of these countries.
Plants play a vital role in providing zinc, iron and protein in the diet. Among them, wheat, rice and corn “contribute about two-thirds of the world’s protein, zinc and iron intake. However, wheat and rice are more sensitive to the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, when the corn is clearly less impacted, “says Matthew Smith.
The poorest people are also the most vulnerable because plants make up a larger share of their diet, while the richest supplement their diet with meat.
“The decisions we make every day – how we heat our homes, what we eat, how we move, what we buy – make our food less nutritious and jeopardize the health of other populations and future generations.” warns Samuel Myers, co-author of the study, quoted in the statement.