Changing Food Systems

Global environmental change – particularly climate change, pollinator declines, fishery and wildlife declines, water shortages, and other forms of environmental processes – will pervasively affect our food systems and the ability to provide a growing human population with enough quality nutrition. Research is needed to understand how multiple interacting types of environmental change impact the quantity and quality of food available to different populations around the world. Another important priority is to understand how accelerating changes and losses to many wild and indigenous foods are likely to alter nutritional intake for different populations and affect their health.

Lamb JB, Willis BL, Fiorenza EA, Couch CS, Howard R, Rader DN, True JD, Kelly LA, Ahmad A, Jompa J, et al. Plastic waste associated with disease on coral reefs . Science [Internet]. 2018;359 (6374) :460-462. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Plastic waste can promote microbial colonization by pathogens implicated in outbreaks of disease in the ocean. We assessed the influence of plastic waste on disease risk in 124,000 reef-building corals from 159 reefs in the Asia-Pacific region. The likelihood of disease increases from 4% to 89% when corals are in contact with plastic. Structurally complex corals are eight times more likely to be affected by plastic, suggesting that microhabitats for reef-associated organisms and valuable fisheries will be disproportionately affected. Plastic levels on coral reefs correspond to estimates of terrestrial mismanaged plastic waste entering the ocean. We estimate that 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and project this number to increase 40% by 2025. Plastic waste management is critical for reducing diseases that threaten ecosystem health and human livelihoods.

Ullah H, Nagelkerken I, Goldenberg SU, Fordham DA. Climate change could drive marine food web collapse through altered trophic flows and cyanobacterial proliferation . PLoS Biology [Internet]. 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Global warming and ocean acidification are forecast to exert significant impacts on marine ecosystems worldwide. However, most of these projections are based on ecological proxies or experiments on single species or simplified food webs. How energy fluxes are likely to change in marine food webs in response to future climates remains unclear, hampering forecasts of ecosystem functioning. Using a sophisticated mesocosm experiment, we model energy flows through a species-rich multilevel food web, with live habitats, natural abiotic variability, and the potential for intra- and intergenerational adaptation. We show experimentally that the combined stress of acidification and warming reduced energy flows from the first trophic level (primary producers and detritus) to the second (herbivores), and from the second to the third trophic level (carnivores). Warming in isolation also reduced the energy flow from herbivores to carnivores, the efficiency of energy transfer from primary producers and detritus to herbivores and detritivores, and the living biomass of detritivores, herbivores, and carnivores. Whilst warming and acidification jointly boosted primary producer biomass through an expansion of cyanobacteria, this biomass was converted to detritus rather than to biomass at higher trophic levels—i.e., production was constrained to the base of the food web. In contrast, ocean acidification affected the food web positively by enhancing trophic flow from detritus and primary producers to herbivores, and by increasing the biomass of carnivores. Our results show how future climate change can potentially weaken marine food webs through reduced energy flow to higher trophic levels and a shift towards a more detritus-based system, leading to food web simplification and altered producer–consumer dynamics, both of which have important implications for the structuring of benthic communities.

Hughes TP, Anderson KD, Connolly SR, Heron SF, Kerry JT, Lough JM, Baird AH, Baum JK, Berumen ML, Bridge TC, et al. Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene . Science [Internet]. 2018; 359 (6371) :80-83. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Tropical reef systems are transitioning to a new era in which the interval between recurrent bouts of coral bleaching is too short for a full recovery of mature assemblages. We analyzed bleaching records at 100 globally distributed reef locations from 1980 to 2016. The median return time between pairs of severe bleaching events has diminished steadily since 1980 and is now only 6 years. As global warming has progressed, tropical sea surface temperatures are warmer now during current La Niña conditions than they were during El Niño events three decades ago. Consequently, as we transition to the Anthropocene, coral bleaching is occurring more frequently in all El Niño–Southern Oscillation phases, increasing the likelihood of annual bleaching in the coming decades.

Lachat C, Raneri JE, Smith KW, Kolsteren P, Van Damme P, Verzelen K, Penafiel D, Vanhove W, Kennedy G, Hunter D, et al. Dietary species richness as a measure of food biodiversity and nutritional quality of diets . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Biodiversity is key for human and environmental health. Available dietary and ecological indicators are not designed to assess the intricate relationship between food biodiversity and diet quality. We applied biodiversity indicators to dietary intake data from and assessed associations with diet quality of women and young children. Data from 24-hour diet recalls (55% in the wet season) of n = 6,226 participants (34% women) in rural areas from seven low- and middle-income countries were analyzed. Mean adequacies of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, and zinc and diet diversity score (DDS) were used to assess diet quality. Associations of biodiversity indicators with nutrient adequacy were quantified using multilevel models, receiver operating characteristic curves, and test sensitivity and specificity. A total of 234 different species were consumed, of which <30% were consumed in more than one country. Nine species were consumed in all countries and provided, on average, 61% of total energy intake and a significant contribution of micronutrients in the wet season. Compared with Simpson’s index of diversity and functional diversity, species richness (SR) showed stronger associations and better diagnostic properties with micronutrient adequacy. For every additional species consumed, dietary nutrient adequacy increased by 0.03 (P < 0.001). Diets with higher nutrient adequacy were mostly obtained when both SR and DDS were maximal. Adding SR to the minimum cutoff for minimum diet diversity improved the ability to detect diets with higher micronutrient adequacy in women but not in children. Dietary SR is recommended as the most appropriate measure of food biodiversity in diets.

Efferth T, Paul NW. Threats to human health by great ocean garbage patches . The Lancet Planetary Health [Internet]. 2017;1 (8). Publisher's VersionAbstract
The medical relevance of environmental topics can be blurred by politicised debates and the global scale of the environmental impact of human life. However, a seemingly remote serious health threat is currently floating in our oceans and needs to trigger the attention of the medical community, as its clinical manifestation is only a matter of time.
 
 
Vázquez-Rowe I, Larrea-Gallegos G, Villanueva-Rey P, Gilardino A. Climate change mitigation opportunities based on carbon footprint estimates of dietary patterns in Peru . PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Food consumption accounts for an important proportion of the world GHG emissions per capita. Previous studies have delved into the nature of dietary patterns, showing that GHG reductions can be achieved in diets if certain foods are consumed rather than other, more GHG intensive products. For instance, vegetarian and low-meat diets have proved to be less carbon intensive than diets that are based on ruminant meat. These environmental patterns, increasingly analyzed in developed nations, are yet to be assessed in countries liked Peru where food purchase represents a relatively high percentage of the average household expenditure, ranging from 38% to 51% of the same. Therefore, food consumption can be identified as a potential way to reduce GHG emissions in Peru. However, the Peruvian government lacks a specific strategy to mitigate emissions in this sector, despite the recent ratification of the Paris Accord. In view of this, the main objective of this study is to analyze the environmental impacts of a set of 47 Peruvian food diet profiles, including geographical and socioeconomic scenarios. In order to do this, Life Cycle Assessment was used as the methodological framework to obtain the overall impacts of the components in the dietary patterns observed and primary data linked to the composition of diets were collected from the Peruvian National Institute for Statistics (INEI). Life cycle inventories for the different products that are part of the Peruvian diet were obtained from a set of previous scientific articles and reports regarding food production. Results were computed using the IPCC 2013 assessment method to estimate GHG emissions. Despite variations in GHG emissions from a geographical perspective, no significant differences were observed between cities located in the three Peruvian natural regions (i.e., coast, Andes and Amazon basin). In contrast, there appears to be a strong, positive correlation between GHG emissions and social expenditure or academic status. When compared to GHG emissions computed in the literature for developed nations, where the average caloric intake is substantially higher, diet-related emissions in Peru were in the low range. Our results could be used as a baseline for policy support to align nutritional and health policies in Peru with the need to reduce the environmental impacts linked to food production.