Rice Could Lose Its Nutritional Value Due to Rising CO2 Levels

A Warming Planet Could Zap Nutrition From Rice That Feeds The World

"If we do nothing, then yes, there is this potential for profound negative impacts on human health", said Kristie Ebi, a public health researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle and one of the authors of the study, which also involved researchers at institutions in China, Japan, Australia and the United States, including at the US Agriculture Department. This aligns with similar studies that found that higher levels of carbon dioxide can result in reduced amounts of protein, iron and zinc in rice. Current levels are just over 400 ppm. It was led by Chunwu Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Their data revealed an inverse relationship between Carbon dioxide levels and nutritional qualities - the higher the Carbon dioxide level, the lower the levels of vitamins and minerals.

The researchers found an average of 10.3 percent drop in protein across all the tested varieties, with one tested cultivar showing a 20 percent reduction in protein. "So they're critically important, particularly for maternal and child health, but for all of us".

But rice as we know it is at risk.

The carbon dioxide humans pump into Earth's atmosphere is doing more damage to the global food system than once thought.

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"This paper draws on the data they've produced to show there's a detrimental effect on the quality of the rice grain in high CO2".

It's the change in this makeup of the plant itself that could, in turn, translate into changes in its nutritional content for those who consume it.

"We have some rice varieties that show a stronger response to Carbon dioxide and they are able to convert more of that Carbon dioxide into seed, which can be good", said senior study author Lewis Ziska, a scientist with the Department of Agriculture.

There isn't a deep body of evidence yet on the topic of how carbon dioxide changes nutritional profiles, even though the effects of such a phenomenon could dramatically impact the lives of hundreds of millions-particularly those in less developed countries that rely on grains as a major source for calories.

It could require comparing today's rice to rice from decades ago, which would mean using samples that have been preserved somehow.

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"The results are bad news, especially for the nutrition of the poorer population in less-developed countries, because this population depends for nutrition on rice", said study co-author Kazuhiko Kobayashi at the University of Tokyo.

Researchers also observed declines in iron, zinc, and protein.

"I think it's crucial and the work we do in [our Centre of Excellence] is more around improving yields - so we're looking more at how to boost the amount of food available to the global population", he said.

"And what this does is just nearly negate some of those gains that we're trying to make for deficiencies in the population that's being most harmed unfortunately".

Here's another reason to take climate change seriously.

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