Diversity within maize. Image source: Sam Fentress, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1293212
16 October is World Food Day (#WFD2016); this year’s theme is ‘Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.’ Jennifer Cunniff, plant scientist in CABI’s editorial team looks at how harnessing crop diversity is vital for us to meet the challenge.
Of the wide variety of edible plant species growing on our planet it’s amazing how few of them we actually include in our diet. Around 30 000 edible plant species are known, yet only 30 of these feed the world, and we are heavily reliant on a handful of cereals – rice, bread wheat, maize, millets and sorghum – provide 60% of the energy intake of the world population (FAO). This narrowing of our food base largely started with the advent of farming – before then, there is plentiful archaeological evidence that shows we were foraging across a much wider breadth of plant species (e.g. Weiss et al. 2004; Fairbairn et al. 2006). Once we formed settled societies we began to focus on crops that offered the best level of return and were best adapted to the cultivated environments we created. Furthermore, even though multiple accessions1 of our widely grown cereal species exist (naturally and through breeding) only a few dozen are grown on a wide scale. This strategy has consequences – genetic variability for adaptation to future climate change is lost.
1 A single collected variety or cultivar. It could be a wild variety, a landrace or a bred cultivar.
A young man in drought conditions in Ethiopia (Author: USAID African Bureau)
We are all told to improve our diet; increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption and reducing our red meat intake. But a new study, ‘Global and regional health effects of future food production under climate change; a modelling study,’ published in The Lancet has revealed that climate change may make eating our 5 a day more challenging, and that subsequent dietary shifts and changes in body weight will lead to more than half a million additional deaths worldwide by 2050.
I recently attended the International Sugar Organization’s annual conference in London, hoping to hear Dr. Francesco Branca of the World Health Organization explaining the rationale for the WHO’s recommendations on how much sugar people should eat, and see what response he got from the assembled sugar industry representatives and how he responded to that. As a reasonably independent observer (CABI publishes Sugar Industry Abstracts, but does much work on nutrition and health as well) I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately, however, he didn’t turn up due to other commitments, and sent a video presentation instead.
With the global population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050, there has been much debate around the issues of nutrition and food security. Amid these concerns, a report published on May 6 by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), calls for greater consideration of the use of forests as a food source as well as for biodiversity conservation. The report, titled “Forests, Trees and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition” was presented at the UN Forum on Forests and is a result of the collaboration of more than 60 scientists from around the world.
IN my March
2013 blog “Eat
less salt but make sure it contains iodine!”, I described the problems of addressing iodine–deficiency
diseases in Pakistan and the worrying
rise in iodine deficiency in the UK,
linked to a shift in eating patterns
away from dairy and oily fish, our traditional sources of iodine. Whereas, other developed countries had relied
on introducing a national supply of iodised salt, we had got away without it.
But even countries using iodised salt, now had to watch out, as salt–reduction campaigns to tackle rising cardiovascular
diseases, were allowing iodine-deficiency to reoccur albeit at a low-level (as
compared to the high level of iodine deficiency found in developing countries)
NOW there is further support for re-emerging iodine deficiency
in the UK: this time a study on pregnant
women published in the Lancet. They have identified changes in the IQ of primary-school
children born to mothers with low-level iodine deficiency: IQ goes down 3 points & reading age is
reduced. For more information, read the BBC article Iodine deficiency 'may lower
UK children's IQ and the Lancet
Need I say more? In the March blog, which featured
on Global Health Knowledge Base
and CABI-Handpicked & carefully
sorted , I covered the spectrum of iodine-deficiency diseases which can
occur in children born to mothers with iodine-poor diets, leaving the children with permanent physical
& mental intelligence problems.
Daily it seems, the case is being made to consider introducing iodised
salt into the UK and to advise would-be
pregnant mothers not only to ensure folic acid is in their diet but also
adequate iodine ( BUT not through
seaweed supplements). Pregnant mothers who rely on organic milk should be aware that this contains less iodine than usual and they will need to increase iodine intake to compensate.
WE do indeed “have a new challenge to addressing
iodine deficiency in both developing and developed countries”.
Salt has been used for thousands of years to flavor
& preserve food BUT reliance on fast food, biscuits and tinned goods, with
their hidden salt content, has created for us a high salt diet and with it an
alarming rise in cardiovascular disease.
Reducing our salt intake, by working
with food industry and educating the public (World Salt Awareness Week), should
counter this disease epidemic. BUT take this too far, and could an old
disease re-emerge? I speak of iodine deficiency in the diet, which can cause abortion,
stillbirth, goitres, mental retardation & birth defects: iodized salt
WHO recommend universal salt
iodization for developing countries as a simple, safe and cost-effective
measure to address iodine deficiency, and many developed countries follow this
Image: Amanda Mills, USDA.
People afraid of salt so a disease re-emerges or is unaddressed?
If we ever needed
a reminder of the importance of iodized salt & public attitudes to health, you
only had to read “salt
rumors add to health crisis in pakistan” (Washington Post).
A fuller discussion of these issues can be found in the March issue of Global Health Knowledge Base, along with the latest research on iodine
deficiency and salt iodisation.
blogger, Henry Ko, health services researcher with SingHealth,
Singapore, provides a personal commentary on issues raised by Mark
Bitterman's book on salt: “Salted: A manifesto on the world’s most
mineral, with recipes”.
healthcare researcher with both professional and recreational interests in
food, nutrition, and cooking, I was drawn to a book I casually found whilst
scanning a bookstore shelf in the cooking section called “Salted: A manifesto
on the world’s most essential mineral, with recipes”. The writer is ‘selmelier’, Mark Bitterman.
Image: Mark Bitterman
For a book in
the cookbook section, I found it highly enlightening and detailed, almost like
a scientific textbook on salt. Make no mistake, this is not a regular cookbook.
It is a book with three sections that (1) highlights human’s history with salt,
especially the production of salt and culinary traditions of using salt, (2)
has a section on identifying all the many different types and features of
artisanal salts, and finally (3) a section with recipes for cooking and using
salt for food (e.g. seasoning, curing).
What I learnt
about the salt industry really opened my eyes. Some of the
points highlighted in the book and by skeptics of the salt industry in the
public, match – that there appears to be an agenda by big industry to sell iodised salt.
You can read the full article by Henry Ko in the March issue of Global Health Knowledge Base, along with the latest research on
iodine deficiency and salt iodisation.
Also relevant to the debate is "Salt, could it be implicated in autoimmunity?"(CABI's Nutrition and Food Sciences),
reporting on two animal studies in Nature two weeks ago.