Wake Up Call

U.N. Scientist: Loss of Biodiversity Poses a Huge Threat to Our Food Supply and Survival

In Trondheim, Norway, Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, founding Chair at the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, gave international officials a dire warning about the insecurity of the future of our food supply.

"We are hurtling towards irreversible environmental tipping points that, once passed, would reduce the ability of ecosystems to provide essential goods and services to humankind," Hamid said Monday, according to the Science Recorder.

See also: Extreme Honeybee Losses Could Threaten U.S. Food Supply

As the head of the newly formed independent intergovernmental body, IPBES, it's Zakri's job to lead the group in assessing the state of biodiversity on a global scale. The body is meant to be an instrument for both the scientific and policy communities to review and evaluate information generated by governments, academia, scientific organizations, non-governmental organizations and indigenous communities around the world.

On Monday Zakri told a conference of experts that the accelerating rate at which biodiversity is decreasing could become a big problem in the future. For decades the trend has been to grow genetically uniform crops and livestock, to please consumer preferences and facilitate standardized marketing. That means growing which ever crops grow fastest and yield the most and allowing traditional breeds of animals to go extinct in favor of those that produce more meat or milk.

What this practice could lead to down the road, however, could be disastrous according to Zakri. With less biodiversity, our food supply is more vulnerable to new diseases and conditions due to a smaller genetic pool, potentially putting our global food supply at the mercy of mother nature.

Zakri also said the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated last year that 22 percent of the world's livestock breeds were at risk of extinction. He pointed out that though there are 30,000 edible plants, just 30 crops account for 95 percent of the energy in human food.

Overcoming the dangers will take effort in both the private and public sector, experts say. Some countries have already started breeding programs for exotic live stock and made promises to increase the amount of land set aside for parks, but these solutions will only be a small part of the equation if we're going to overcome the losses that have already taken place.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria