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Watch Out: Carbon Up, Nutrition Down


“We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.” 
-Irakli Loladze

As far back as the early 1920s, Rudolf Steiner, founder of Biodynamic Agriculture, suggested in his Agriculture Course that “a lot of things have diminished in their nutritive value,” partly due to the early adoption of chemical fertilizers.

Then, in recent decades, as scientists continued to document a nutritional decline in our foods, many attributed it, not only to chemical fertilizers, but also to industrial agriculture’s obsession with yields over nutritive value.  (See Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields by Brian Halweil, published by The Organic Center, September 2007 --

And now we have one more reason for the decline in nutrition. Carbon dioxide.   It turns out that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a disturbing outcome.  Plants increase production of carbohydrates at the expense of protein and micronutrients essential for human health – magnesium, calcium, potassium and more -- leaving our food less nutritious.

For decades, common cultural wisdom held that while climate change might cause rising sea levels, more devastating storms and dying corral reefs, there might also be a beneficial effect – plants, that feed on carbon dioxide, might grow more and/or faster. The idea was: more carbon, happier plants.

However, there is one small problem.  It’s not what happens.  Mathematician Irakli Loladze, inspired twenty years ago by a biologist who noticed zooplankton did not thrive on algae blooms, has spent decades looking at the question of whether people likewise might not thrive on vegetables or rice or other foods induced into growth by rising levels carbon in the atmosphere. Loladze released a paper in 2002 theorizing his idea that carbon dioxide might undermine nutrition in plants, and another paper in 2014 that documents it.  A recent article in Politico on his story reports the conclusions of his research: “Across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average.  The ratio of carbohydrates to minerals was going up. The plants, like the algae, were becoming junk food.”

The industrial food system is broken. We see it in an ailing Earth – we see it in disappearing rural culture -- we see it in the inequities of income and food access – and feel it in our sick bodies.   Our bodies are ravaged by the tens of thousands of chemicals in use, many of them in agriculture, and by the declining nutritional value of our foods.  We are witnessing a widespread epidemic of diet-related illnesses – from obesity to diabetes, allergies to stroke, and cancer to heart disease.

At AOLC, we are committed to regenerate agriculture.  We assert that to earn the adjective ‘sustainable,’ the food and farm system must satisfy a quadruple bottomline that addresses Economy, Ecology, Equity, and Expression.

Agriculture meets the bottomline of Economy - when it produces nutrient-dense healthy and delicious food for our bodies

It meets the bottomline of Ecology -  when it heals the living Earth and grows soils as we produce food

It meets the bottomline of Equity - when it protects the human rights of all people in the food chain - from farmworkers to food preparers – and creates access for all eaters

And it meets the bottomline of Expression - when farming and eating sustains a vibrant culture where human beings are fully and freely expressed.

For eaters, regenerating agriculture requires that we consider every purchase we make for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We vote for the kind of world we want with every meal.  It is our ballot box for agriculture.  We can support farmers who honor the quadruple bottomline, or we can support the industrial food system that every day consolidates its power in fewer and fewer hands, exploits the land and people to extract profit, and markets foods that either poison our bodies or starves us of the nutrients we need.

The Learning Center welcomes your support for our programs to regenerate agriculture and to make nutrient-dense foods accessible to all! You can read more about the amazing work of Irakli Loladze. Click here to see the excellent article by Helena Bottemiller Evich in Politico September 13, 2017.

By Tom Spaulding
President, Angelic Organics Association