Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In the News Today

I'm in a foodie mood today, so I've collected some news articles about tuna, tea, and bumblebees - they pollinate tomatoes, dontcha know!

The BP oil spill continues to wreak havoc on the environment, this time as a result of the cleanup efforts: aquatic toxicologists are worried that the dispersants used to break up the oil actually increase the chances that sea life will interact with oil because the droplets are now dispersed over a much larger area than the spill originally affected. This spells trouble for the bluefin tuna that spawn in the Gulf of Mexico: "petroleum contamination could cause embryos to develop deformities, which can make it impossible for the young fish to grow old enough to reproduce". Read the full article here.

Unfortunately, bluefin tuna have other things to worry about: the growing popularity of this fish around the world (but mostly in Japan) is rapidly making it an endangered species. How do sushi-lovers respond to this crisis? By demanding more. In early January, a giant bluefin tuna sold at a record-breaking price at Tsukiji market in Tokyo (see here for details), which I imagine only serves to encourage the fishing industry to continue depleting the stocks. I wonder if fishers have any transferable skills for the inevitable career transition that awaits them when the seas are emptied of life?

Weaker flavour and reduced yields of tea in the Assam tea growing region of India provide an interesting example of the fallout that rising temperatures due to global climate change can have on agriculture. Damp conditions resulting from warmer weather have lowered production levels, bolstered the populations of insects that damage the tea bush, and apparently even diluted the usually strong and distinct flavour of Assam tea. While I anticipated that climate change would mess up agriculture (when you change the growing conditions, you change the yield), I'm surprised that the flavour of the tea has changed. If you read similar reports by green tea growers in East Asia, please let me know! Tea is my go-to hot beverage, and green tea is my favourite type.

As if the disappearance of honeybees wasn't enough, according to a recent study, four species of bumblebees in the US that are vital for the pollination of native plants (and tomatoes!) have declined by 96% due to pathogens and habitat loss. I'll just give you a minute to let that figure sink in. 96%! If these bees disappear, then the species of plants they are perfectly designed to pollinate will die out with them. But the chain of events doesn't stop there: what happens to the animals whose diet consists of these plants? What happens to the nutrient and water cycles when species A, B, and C are replaced by species X, Y, Z that behave totally differently from what our local ecosystems are used to? In nature, you can't just change one thing at a time, and even small problems can have far-reaching consequences. Read the full article here.

If you have any other news related to the impact our degraded environment has had on food and beverages, please share it in the comments section below!

Photo of tuna market used under Creative Commons from whatsound (flickr)
Photo of tea plantation used under Creative Commons from Loke Seng Hon (Wikimedia Commons).
Photo of bumblebee used under Creative Commons from José M. Rus (flickr).

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