Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Disappearing Foods

John Tomanio- National Geographic
The accelerated loss of species of plants and animals in the last few hundred years has been labeled the "Sixth Extinction."  There are many factors, most of which have to do with the impact of humans on climate and the expanding footprint of growing populations.

A different loss of diversity is described in a new graphic, the loss of variety of foods that we grow to eat.  Over the last 80 years (1903 to 1983) we have lost 93% of the seed varieties of 10 some commonly eaten plants.  Fastcodesign.com graphically displays the results.

Of the 500 varieties of lettuce in 1903, only 36 remain.  Ditto for radishes, beets, peas, cabbage, squash, etc.  Even tomatoes, with their popularity of heirloom breeds, have lost 80% of their varieties.  OK, I can live with the loss of beets and Janet Haworth won't mourn the missing peas, but that is not the point.

Not only do we lose the chance for new and different tastes, we lose the genetic diversity which gives plants their resilience to disease and climate changes.  You don't have to look farther than the European grape industry to see the value in dipping back into to an older gene pool to find strains resistant to new diseases and predators.  Indeed, the Missouri grape vines saved Europe's wine industry.

Just think of the impact that a major disease attacking the corn crop could have.  Over three hundred varieties of sweet corn seeds in 1903 had dropped to 12 in 1983.  We not only have lost the breeding stock for new varieties but the seed bank that can help engineer disease resistance.

Loss of diversity not only hurts the planet- it hurts our diet.

1 comment:

  1. So scary to think that the small menu ( a lot of which are privately owned e.g. Monsanto) on which the world depends could be wiped out so easily...one crop disease.

    Some of the heritage seeds, I grow in the garden are now less than 25 years old. Grow them and save them. You may need them.