This chapter recounts the impact of the green revolution (1960–1980) on subsequent world food supplies and its consequences in terms of human nutrition and health via its impact on the micronutrient status of staple foods and of diets generally. Micronutrient deficiency disorders now occur in over half of the total human population. This chapter then reviews the recent medical literature on the molecular physiology of the human gut in relation to micronutrient absorption from food and the regulation of nutrient balance from diets heavily based on cereals that are relatively poor in micronutrients. Weaving these two literatures together leads to the conclusion that basing the green revolution on low micronutrient-dense cereals to replace the lower yielding but more nutrient-dense pulses and other dicotyledonous food crops is the probable cause of the epidemics of micronutrient deficiencies in the burgeoning human population in the years since 1980. There are lessons in this for the implementation of new efforts to increase food production in the face of even further increases in population forecast to 2050, especially the new effort starting in Africa, and for improving primary health care generally in resource-rich as well as resource-poor countries. We conclude that while complete nutrient balance in our diets is the only satisfactory aim of a sustainable food strategy, we focus attention on zinc deficiency and its alleviation as the most extensive and urgent problem among several that arose as an unforeseen side effect of the first green revolution.
Graham, R.D.; Knez, M.; Welch, R.M. How Much Nutritional Iron Deficiency in Humans Globally Is due to an Underlying Zinc Deficiency? Advances in Agronomy (2012) 115: 1-40. [DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-394276-0.00001-9]