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Report links rise in Zoonotic diseases to toxic crops

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Farmer-on-a-maize-farm

Some major staple crops, like wheat, barley, maize and millet, have been identified as most susceptible to nitrate accumulation, which is caused by prolonged drought and high temperatures. These toxic crops, in turn, have been identified as leading to increase in zoonotic diseases, including Ebola, bird flu, Middle East respiratory syndrome, Rift Valley fever and Zika virus disease.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which examined how climate change is increasing the toxicity of crops, disclosed that climate change is already having a major impact on food safety and security.

According to the report, called Frontiers, drought and high temperatures can trigger the accumulation in crops of chemical compounds that are toxic to animals and humans.

It said, “Acute nitrate poisoning in animals can lead to miscarriage, asphyxiation and death, ruining the lives of smallholder farmers and herders,” stressing the threat to human health posed by the alarming amount of plastic waste in oceans, as well as, the crucial role the world’s financial sector can play in driving the planet to a low-carbon, resource-efficient future.

Although nitrate accumulation is caused by prolonged drought, heavy rains that break prolonged drought can also result in the dangerous accumulation of another toxic compound called hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid in crops like flax, maize, sorghum, arrow grass, cherries and apples.

“Aflatoxins, which are fungal toxins that can cause cancer and stunt foetal growth, are another emerging problem in crops. The risk of aflatoxin contamination, especially in maize, is expected to increase in higher latitudes due to rising temperatures,” the report says.

Diseases passed from animals to humans are on the rise. The Frontiers report stated that this rise is closely linked to the health of ecosystems, as human activities that encroach on natural habitats enable pathogens in wildlife reservoirs to spread more easily to livestock and humans.

According to the report, the pathogens that cause the zoonotic diseases have wildlife reservoirs that serve as their long-term hosts. “In the last two decades, emerging diseases have had direct costs of more than $100b. If these outbreaks had become human pandemics, the losses would have amounted to several trillion dollars,” the report states.


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