This was the start of a puzzle that took years to gain interest for research but which eventually led to a very disturbing conclusion finally published in Nature entitled ‘Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition’.
The conclusion of the research was that, although CO2 stimulated plant growth, the plant had a higher level of carbohydrates but a lower level of micronutrients like zinc, potassium and iron which are vital to health.
The World Health Organisation reported that although malnutrition world wide had reduced by 15% the overall picture was not so good which led to the following statement. ‘Today, nearly one in three persons globally suffers from at least one form of malnutrition: wasting, stunting, vitamin and mineral deficiency, overweight or obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases.
This is a condition called ‘Hidden Hunger’ where we are missing the essential building blocks of life. For many of the poorer nations, where people are on a mainly plant based diet, a deficiency can have fatal results.
Research on the subject is complicated because there are many factors at play that can reduce micronutrients such as deficient minerals in the soil from relying on artificial fertilisers, new strains that emphasise bigger growth of the crop and elevated levels of CO2 which stimulate growth and the glucose content of plants.
Research has been split into two eras, 1850 until today when CO2 grew from 280 parts per million to the present at 420 ppm, and from now until mid-century when CO2 is expected to reach 550 ppm.
One experiment in the USA, on the earlier period, used the wild plant Goldenrod where there were old samples of seeds and it had not been modified. Goldenrod flowers late in the summer and the bees use the pollen as a store to see them through the winter. The results showed a decline in nutrients of one third which might explain a poorer survival rate of bees through the winter.
Experiments that compare plants grown to day with CO2 at 400 ppm and with CO2 at 550 ppm show elevated growth, increased hydrocarbon content and a reduction in micronutrients of 10% to 15%.
In New Zealand where we have plenty of good food available it emphasises how important it is to have a balanced diet and just eating plenty does not guarantee good health and how important it is to look carefully at the contents of food and include plenty of green vegetables and adequate portions of dairy and red meat.