According to new research from an international team of scientists, the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may cause a decrease in the nutritional value of rice. Published in the journal Science Advances, the study concludes that rice contains lower levels of four essential B vitamins when grown under atmospheric conditions similar to those expected by the end of the 21st century. This aligns with similar studies that found that higher levels of carbon dioxide can result in reduced amounts of protein, iron and zinc in rice.
The scientists conducted the study using 18 common strains of rice grown in fields in China and Japan. For the first time, research reveals that vitamins B1, B2, B5 and B9, all of which are important to the body’s ability to turn food into energy, decrease in rice as carbon dioxide levels increased. “This is an underappreciated risk of burning of fossil fuels and deforestation,” study co-author and director of the University of Washington Center for Health and the Global Environment Kristie Ebi said in a statement.
The adverse effects of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide reflect the unanticipated consequences of climate change. “People say more CO2 is plant food, and it is. But how plants respond to that sudden increase in food will impact human health as well, from nutritional deficits, to ethno-pharmacology, to seasonal pollen allergies — in ways that we don’t yet understand,” study co-author Lewis Ziska said.
The conclusion that rice will become less nutritional as climate change continues carries significant consequences for more than two billion people who depend on the grain as their primary food source. “Rice has been a dietary staple for thousands of years for many populations in Asia and is the fastest growing food staple in Africa,” Ebi said. “Reductions in the nutritional quality of rice could affect maternal and child health for millions of people.”