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While hanging out at The Salt this morning, we read an amazing story about food crops in the future–the fairly near future, and it got us thinking.

If you spend a lot of time with us at Brown Bag, you know all about our commitment to not only serving healthy, delicious cuisine-on-the-fly, but taking care of our planet in the process.  We’re all about buying locally whenever possible, recycling, clean energy, and using environmentally-friendly products (to name a few things), so we try to stay up to date on the latest news in food, especially as it relates to the environment.  So, when we saw this news, we sat up and took notice.

As most of you know, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are on the rise.  Right now, they stand at about 400 parts per million.  In the next 40 to 60 years, those levels will be at about 500 parts per million.  So, the question is: What does that mean for our crops?  Quantity-wise, more carbon dioxide seems to be a plus.  Crops grow more quickly with more carbon dioxide, and yields are about 10 percent higher.  The downside: The nutritional content of those crops takes a nosedive.

Experiments are ongoing throughout the world right now, and take place in open fields.  To generate conditions like those that will exist 40 to 60 years from now, rings of carbon dioxide jets are set up.  The crops being tested are some of the world’s most important: rice, wheat, corn, peas and others; and what scientists are finding is that nutrients like iron, zinc, and protein are being reduced by 5 to 10 percent.  Some theorize that as yields increase, nutrients are diluted–but this is only a theory.  No definitive answers have been found yet.  Whatever the reason, though, this is a problem for people, and especially for the world’s poor.

There already exists in the world major deficiencies of iron and zinc.  Zinc deficiencies lower the immune system’s ability to fight off infectious diseases and raise rates of child mortality, while iron deficiencies increase mortality rates in mothers and lower the IQs of children–and these are just a few of the complications.  Since rice and corn aren’t significant sources of these nutrients anyway, you may be thinking that people should just diversify their diets a bit more, but millions of the world’s poor don’t have that option.  While an international collaboration called HarvestPlus is trying to raise the levels of these nutrients through plant breeding, apparently, that’s easier said than done.  Now, with the rise of carbon dioxide levels presenting a new challenge, that work is even more difficult.

What do you think?  We’d love to hear your opinions/solutions on our Facebook and/or Twitter pages, so feel free to reach out!  We don’t pretend to have all of the answers here at Brown Bag, but we do encourage our customers to do what they can.  Change starts with one person, after all.  Shop locally, recycle, and look for ways in your everyday life that you can reduce your carbon footprint.  The small things add up.  What are you doing to help the planet?  While you’re working on that, we’ll be here doing our part while trying to get as much flavor and nutrition as we can into every item on our menu.  Come join us!;)