Food, Climate & Toxins

Since I have been discussing infectious diseases, I thought I would go to another similar section in the NIEH report, Foodborne diseases and nutrition. Some interesting facts: 3.7 billion, that’s billion, not millions, of people are malnourished in the world right now (3) Globally, food production occupies more land than any other activity (about 40 times the area of all cities and suburbs combined), uses more freshwater than anything else people do and is a major source of carbon pollution in the air and nitrogen pollution in the water (1)

And, while most of us think of developing countries as the main ones affected by food resource issues, when you take into account insufficient food resources and under nutrition, the US and other developing countries are also part of those numbers (3) In fact, even in Arizona, 1 in 5 households reported not having enough money to buy food in the past year. In Flagstaff alone, millions of pounds of food was given to thousands of families last year (2)



The connection to climate change and food resources is that extreme weather events associated with climate change, such as temperature changes, extreme heat and precipitation, may affect crop production, transportation and distribution. The ability to grow crops may be affected, as well as water availability. These factors may affect the nutritional quality of food as well as the quantity of food availability (3)

With climate change, according to the US Climate Change Science Program, it is likely that the spread of foodborne pathogens will increase and food security will be vulnerable with weather events such as droughts, floods and wildfires (4)

Another factor surrounding food is that it can be a source of chemical toxins, like pesticides, microbe toxins, bio toxins and other toxins. Contaminants include a wide range of chemicals and metals such as PCBs, PAHs, mercury, and cadmium; pharmaceuticals such as synthetic hormones, statins, and antibiotics; widely used industrial chemicals such as fire retardants, stain repellants, and non-stick coatings; and pesticides and herbicides for agricultural use and vector control for public health protection (1, 3)



So the food choices we make in supermarkets, restaurants and in our homes can have a big influence on the world around us. Making small changes in what we eat can have big environmental and health benefits.

Which brings me to the tips of the week:

While this may not affect the environment, give to your local food bank so people in our own towns have enough to eat. Stock up on staples in your own pantry in case of any food security issues in the future.

And to help minimize the impact on our planet and our health: Watch out for the “Dirty Dozen.” These are the most common foods that have the highest amount of pesticides. If you can’t buy all organic, at least get these foods from a good local source or organic: