Rice Becomes Less Nutritious as CO2 Levels Rise

Global Warming May Be Pulling Out Protein and Vitamins From Your Rice Study

The finding that rice's nutritional quality can suffer as atmospheric Carbon dioxide concentrations increase has notable implications for populations in regions that rely on rice for primary nutrition.

As carbon dioxide rises due to the burning of fossil fuels, rice will lose some of its protein and vitamin content, putting millions of people at risk of malnutrition, scientists warned on Wednesday.

In the current study, researchers in Japan and China grew and analysed 18 different varieties of rice in fields and found that protein, iron and zinc levels all fell significantly in higher Carbon dioxide environments.

"Rice is not just a major source of calories, but also proteins and vitamins for many people in developing countries and for poorer communities within developed countries", said Professor Kazuhiko Kobayashi of the University of Tokyo, co-author of the recent study and expert in effects of air pollution on agriculture.

Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who leads the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, argued that more carbon dioxide will tends to increased plant growth, spurring "a greater volume of food production and better quality food".

Professor Furbank - based at the Australian National University - said researchers should now study and breed varieties that will yield quality - not just quantity in high Carbon dioxide environments.

"It's something that we need to be aware of and it's something that we need to evaluate", says Lewis Ziska, a US Department of Agriculture plant physiologist who is on the research team.

"I haven't seen anything about the vitamins, that was new in this paper", Rice said, "but there's other reports that show, or ate least model and have done some lab estimates, that anywhere from 2 to 10 percent less protein content for grains under [an] elevated Carbon dioxide environment".

They found on average that the test rice had 10% less protein, 8% less iron and 5.1% less zinc compared with rice grown by farmers under existing conditions.

Higher CO2 means less exposure to nitrogen, which also may affect vitamin content, researchers said.

This finding is not based on computer simulation of a plant's response to notionally higher atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas CO2, nor on laboratory studies under glass and in artificial conditions. The biggest decline was observed in folate or vitamin B9 across the nine rice varieties, which ranged from 10 percent to 45 percent. The scientists have found that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere will make rice less nutritious.

Nutritional deficiencies, the researchers note, "can directly (cognitive development, metabolism, and immune system) and indirectly (obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus) affect human health on a panoptic scale". Some populations could experience nutrient deficiencies in the future, some studies found. While developed countries are less likely to suffer from this, a low rice nutritional value will definitely be quite destructive in the poorer regions.

Still, "what the nature of that impact is in terms of nutritional effects and health effects" remains to be seen, Ziska noted. It reads, "Rice has been a dietary staple for thousands of years for many populations in Asia and is the fastest growing food staple in Africa".

"Trying to understand those complexities and trying to understand those interactions is one of the things we think is very important", he said.

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