Climate change has affected our daily lives. From rising temperatures to rising ocean levels, the effects of climate change are real. Whether governments or individuals want to accept this premise is a different topic. Recently, research has suggested that in some regions of the world where some food items are common with toxins, the level of toxins may increase. Here’s how climate change is affecting food safety; in particular the foods most affected by climate change.

Cassava is a root found native in South America but is a common food in Africa. For many, they rely on cassava to feed their families and survive. One scientist, Nzwalo, discovered that cassava is a carrier for hydrogen cyanide. Hydrogen cyanide is a toxin that is known to cause paralysis and a neurological disease named “konzo”. Konzo is a neurological condition where individuals struggle to walk while bending their knees, causing them to walk as if their legs were tied. Normally, the toxin can be excreted from the body with water. On the contrary, there is an agricultural crisis occurring in Africa along with drought and famine. Due to the insufficient rainfall that occurs in some regions of Africa, the amount of hydrogen cyanide in this root can grow. Since many people do not have access to other food sources, cassava is the only option for many to eat. The risk of konzo increases with the consumption of cassava.

The future of food safety:
Cassava is only part of the overall dilemma faced with food safety and availability. Last year, researchers discovered that increased CO2 due to climate change reduces vitamins in foods. The vitamins that could experience a deficiency include zinc, iron, and protein. In addition, foods could also become toxic such as the case with cassava. How would this occur? There are many external factors that play in food safety. These factors include abnormal weather, poverty, and a shortage of prepared/ripe foods.

This is not the first time food safety has been called into question with climate change. Back in the 1940s, an epidemic occurred where a village ate grass peas that caused similar symptoms to konzo. At the time, grass peas were considered an “impoverished food” and a staple of Spanish cuisine. In India, grass peas are consumed when other crops suffer from drought. No matter the cause, climate change is soon to have an impact on our food safety and the availability of food.