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Will global warming cause malnutrition?

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY. Princeton University biologist Dr. Irakli Loladze believes that rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels will make plant crops increasingly nutrient deficient and eventually lead to malnutrition for all. Over 3000 scientific studies have investigated what elevated CO2 levels do to plants. There is general agreement that plants today are exposed to about 30% more CO2 than in pre-industrial times. There is also general agreement that this higher CO2 level makes plants grow faster and bigger. The problem is, according to Dr. Loladze and other increasingly concerned scientists, that the faster growth interferes with the plant's capacity to absorb vital nutrients from the soil.

One study, which looked at growing rice in CO2 enriched air, found that the nitrogen content of the rice declined by 14% while the content of iron and zinc each declined by 17%. Iron deficiency is already the world's biggest health problem with 3.5 billion people suffering mental and physical impairment from an inadequate iron intake. Zinc deficiency, which causes pregnancy complications and poor health and stunted growth in childhood, may be just as widespread. Iodine content of plants may also be affected, potentially adding to the 700 million people who suffer from thyroid problems due to lack of iodine in their diet. An $80 million project is now underway to use genetic engineering to develop iron and zinc-rich varieties of rice, wheat, sweet potatoes, corn, cassava, and the common bean.
Lawton, Graham. Plague of plenty. New Scientist, November 30, 2002, pp. 26-29

Editor's comment: While swamping a few South Pacific islands and melting the polar ice caps may be a small price to pay for continuing our love affair with SUVs and unrestrained energy consumption, perhaps the thought of our children having no choice but to eat GM food may prod the powers that be to actually do something about global warming.

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