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Climate change: possible implications for food safety?

2014 06 13 webst18247 thumbThere is a growing consensus that human activities may be changing our planet's climate. These changes in climate have a number of possible implications for human health and welfare, one of which could be the safety of food.

Since the 18th century, human activities have released large amounts of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. The vast majority of these gases have come from the burning of fossil fuels, industrial processes and deforestation. Estimates for release of gases from food systems are between 19-29% based on 2008 data. The build-up of these gases, known as greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere, traps energy and acts like a blanket around the Earth. While there is a minority view that disagrees, this phenomenon, known as the greenhouse effect, is attributed to causing an increase in the overall temperature of the Earth's atmosphere (i.e. global warming). This warming effect can influence and alter the Earth's climate leading to climate change.

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that the "warming of the climate is unequivocal, human influence is clear, and limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change to the weather conditions. These changes can lead to more extreme weather events such as stronger storm systems, increased frequency of heavy rain and extended dry periods.3 Rising global temperatures may also result in the melting of polar icecaps, increasing sea-levels, acidification of the oceans, coastal flooding and alteration of ocean currents.1,3-6 Recent IPCC estimates indicate likely temperature rises of 1.5oC or greater for some parts of the world by the end of the 21st century.

images 1Possible implications for food safety
The possible implications of climate change on availability and access to food (i.e. food security) has been widely researched and debated. Climate change is generally seen as having a negative impact on food security, particularly in developing countries.

In contrast to food security the possible implications of climate change on food safety is an emerging field of research. The Emerging Risks Unit of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has identified climate change as a driver for emerging risks in food and feed safety in the mid- or long-term.10 Improving our understanding of the possible effects of climate change on food safety is important considering the implications it can have on food security.

Read  the full article for an overview of some potential implications of climate change. Some of these implications are supported by data, others are speculative.

Editing by: CHARIS DIMOSTHENOPOULOS - Dietitian, Biologist
Ελληνικά (GR)English (UK)