The great nutrient collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention. Source: The great nutrient collapse

I don’t lead off these epistles with links to outside sources very often, but this one at Politico, of all places, is a wee bit scary and it’s something that effects all of us because it’s about our food.

So here’s the background: We’ve known for some time that the nutrient density in the plants we eat has dwindled over the last century. Concentrations of minerals, vitamins, etc. in plants has been shrinking. Our produce, on average, now has fewer nutrients per kilo of plant material than it had when the measurements first began. It’s been assumed that there were two reasons why.

First, our farming techniques have changed drastically over the last hundred years. We’ve moved to “industrial” farming, which relies on heavy applications of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. By dramatically altering the environment the plants grow in, we’ve also alters the chemical composition of the plants.

Second, over the centuries we’ve bred plants to grow faster, produce more fruit or grain, and to produce fruits that last longer after picking and which are tough enough to tolerate rough harvesting and shipping conditions. When selecting plants for these traits, we’ve often ignored things like the nutrient content of the plant and flavor. So we’ve ended up with plants that produce fruit that can be stored longer, is easier to harvest, etc. but which is lower in nutrients and flavor.

But that isn’t all that’s been going on, it seems. Apparently increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere seem to have played a significant role in decreasing the nutrient levels in plants.

Maybe… The thing is, this is difficult to test for. The testing requires extensive, difficult to accomplish, and rather expensive experiments, and while there are scientists who would like to do the testing, it has been difficult to get funding to actually do it.

As of right now I don’t think the science is actually settled. The preliminary testing that has been done tends to support the belief that increased atmospheric CO2 levels can indeed result in lower nutrition levels in the plants. But there is still a lot we don’t know. We also don’t know how serious of a problem this may be. A  lot more testing and experiments need to be done to answer all of the questions that need answers.

Author: grouchyfarmer

Yes, I'm a former farmer. Sort of. I'm also an amateur radio operator, amateur astronomer, gardener, maker of furniture, photographer.

2 thoughts on “The great nutrient collapse”

  1. Wow. I did not know this.
    It’s scary. The population grows and we will have no choice but to find more and more techniques to make large and more portable food. All the while making it less nutritious.
    However, I feel sort of vindicated. I spend all my time wondering why fresh food tastes so much “less” than it did when I was young.
    I’ve been blaming it on my aging body. Which is also true – taste buds degrade. But it seems it’s not just my tongue.


    1. I’ve always known that farming techniques used and the breeding of commercial plants effected taste and texture. That becomes very obvious if you compare something like a heritage tomato with the modern store bought variety. Same with a lot of other fruits. They’re bred to be easier to harvest, last longer, and look prettier, at the expense of flavor and sometimes nutritional value. The decline in nutrient value isn’t all that significant, at least not according to most of the data I’ve seen. But nutritional value in any plant can vary significantly even from one plant to another of the same type.Depends on climate, soil conditions, the stresses the plant went through, all kind of things

      This was the first I’d heard about the CO2 issue, though. This is something that really needs to be investigated better and I hope they can get enough funding to do the work.


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