A soggy, rain-soaked cornfield sits unplanted in Farmingdale, Illinois, 13 May 2013, after weeks of constant rain kept central Illinois farmers from seeding their ground. After a drought, now rain is the problem, and the soggy fields means Midwest farmers have little time to decide what to plant this year. Photo: Seth Perlman / AP

By Bill Briggs
16 May 2013

(NBC News) – American eaters, let’s talk about the birds and the bees: The U.S. food supply – from chickens injected with arsenic to dying bee colonies – is under unprecedented siege from a blitz of man-made hazards, meaning some of your favorite treats someday may vanish from your plate, experts say.

Warmer and moister air ringing much of the planet – punctuated by droughts in other locales – is threatening the prime ingredients in many daily meals, including the maple syrup on your morning pancakes and the salmon on your evening grill as well as the wine in your glass and the chocolate on your dessert tray, according to four recent studies.

At the same time, an unappetizing bacterial outbreak in Florida citrus droves, largely affecting orange trees, is causing fruit to turn bitter. Elsewhere, unappealing fungi strains are curtailing certain coffee yields and devastating some banana plantations, researchers report.

Now, mix in the atmospheric misfortunes sapping two mainstays of American farming — corn and cows. Heavier than normal spring rains have put the corn crop far behind schedule: Only 28 percent of corn fields have been planted this year compared with 85 percent at this time in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile, drought in the Southeastern plains and a poor hay yield have culled the U.S. cattle and calf herd to its lowest level since 1952, propelling the wholesale price of a USDA cut of choice beef to a new high on May 3 — $201.68 per 100 pounds, eclipsing the old mark of $201.18 from October 2003, the USDA reports.

“We are in the midst of dramatic assault on the security of the food supply,” said Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The group promotes ecological research into the nexus of diet, food production, environment and human health.

The primary culprit of all this menu mayhem is climate change, which is choking off certain crops already weakened by both genetic tinkering and chemically based farming, some experts contend. […]

Last week, the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere soared to the highest daily average ever recorded by an air monitor station at Mauna Loa in Hawaii — nearly 400 parts per million (ppm), said John Ewald, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, who called it "an extremely important milestone." When that gauge was installed in 1958, the observatory measured a CO2 concentration of 313 ppm. The number means there were 313 molecules of carbon dioxide in the air for every 1 million molecules of air.

“That warmer and more moist air (caused by the CO2) creates the conditions that certain pathogens thrive on,” Lawrence said. “That’s the dilemma with things like the coffee fungi and some of the problems with citrus.” [more]

Food supply under assault as climate heats up

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