A United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP report reveals that certain varieties of food crops like maize and wheat generate more toxins as a result of extreme weather conditions.
The reports released in Nairobi, Kenya says the research discovered that the generate more chemical compounds that can cause health problems for people and livestock as they struggle to deal with more extreme weather.
Director of UNEP Chief Scientist and Director early warning and assessment Jacqueline McGlade says “Crops are responding to drought conditions and increases in temperature just like humans do when faced with a stressful situation,”
The report explained that under normal conditions plants convert nitrates they absorb into nutritious amino acids and proteins. But prolonged drought slows or prevents this conversion, leading to more potentially problematic nitrate accumulating in the plant.
Too much nitrate in diets can interfere with the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen in the body. Crops susceptible to accumulating too much nitrate in times of stress include maize, wheat, barley, soybeans, millet and sorghum according to the report.
McGlade says “some drought-stressed crops accumulate hydrogen cyanide, more commonly known as prussic acid when exposed to sudden large amounts of rain that lead to rapid growth. Prussic acid – an ingredient used in certain types of chemical warfare – interferes with oxygen flow in humans. Even short-term exposure can be debilitating for people.
The report proposes a list of eight ideas farmers can adopt to limit damage from crop toxins, such as mapping contamination hotspots and building better evidence about the toxins in their area. Developing crop varieties designed to cope with extreme weather is another way to reduce the levels of toxins in food.