Now, we can add one more terrible thing to that growing list: climate change could actually make important crops toxic to animals and humans.
That’s the conclusion of a new report released this week by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), which warns that warming temperatures could cause crops to accumulate mycotoxins — poisons produced by fungi that can lead to cancer and death — at higher rates.
Mycotoxins are already found in crops like wheat, maize, and barley — a 1998 estimate suggested that mycotoxins exist in at least 25 percent of cereal grains worldwide. They’re the toxins that come from mold, and a big reason why we avoid food that’s gone bad. Mycotoxins mainly occur in tropical areas, where warm temperatures encourage fungal growth. According to the UNEP, however, rising temperatures coupled with unpredictable precipitation — downpours and droughts — could help mycotoxins thrive in more temperate areas, like Europe.And that's not all. Nitrates accumulate in crops grown in drought conditions, and if there's rain suddenly comes to these drought stricken crops, they generate hydrogen cyanide.
We are going to need to develop drought tolerant crops, and for that we're going to need genetic modification.