Australia's out-of-control wildfires, which have killed at least 27 people and scorched millions of acres, will have a global impact on food, experts say.
"Typically, there are a few ways food supply can be affected by wildfires," former NASA engineer and founder of TCHO Chocolate Timothy Childs told FOX Business. "For one, any farms, crops ... that might be in the path of the fires, clearly will be immediately annihilated."
Childs pointed to the California wildfires in 2019 as an example of the way wildfires can impact food supplies. Australia's wildfires are about 80 times larger than the total area burned in those California fires, venture capitalist and environmentalist Ibrahim AlHusseini told FOX Business.
Australia is a major exporter of wheat, which has been destroyed in the blazes. But there are other effects from the fires on food that might appear less obvious.
"For one, pollutants released by wildfires can affect crop and vegetation growth hundreds of miles away from the actual area that has burned," Childs said.
Childs said those pollutants can "reduce plant growth and productivity."
It's not just plant life that could be affected by the wildfires. Up to a billion animals could die as a result of the wildfires. Since Australia is the second-largest beef and veal exporter in the world, behind Brazil, beef prices might rise, Childs said.
However, AlHusseini said he doesn't anticipate a significant issue with beef or lamb since the long-term drought Australia has experienced already impacted stocking rates of the animals.
"It is climate change's exacerbation of the underlying drought that has caused the de-stocking of the Australian beef and lamb herds," AlHusseini said.
AlHusseini said the dairy industry could also be hurt by the wildfires, which are covering southern Australia, a huge producer of cheese. Two major dairy areas in the country were scorched over the new year.
The unprecedented fire crisis in southeast Australia, which has destroyed 2,000 homes and shrouded major cities in smoke, has focused many Australians on how the nation adapts to climate change. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced fierce criticism both domestically and internationally for downplaying the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes.
Several firefighters unions urged the federal government on Wednesday to order a royal commission — the nation’s highest form of investigation — into the wildfires.
"Because climate change doesn't know borders, there's a real danger that food crises could develop on several continents simultaneously," AlHusseini said.
The wildfire disaster, which is likely to continue throughout the Southern Hemisphere summer, has galvanized calls for more global action on climate change.
"We don't even really know yet the ramifications of nearby countries in terms of negative climate [or] environmental issues, which have a direct correlation on how we produce [and] grow food," Childs said.
It's still early in Australia's fire season, too, and with the continent being in a significant drought since 2017, AlHusseini is worried about the overall climate implications. The country's fire season ends in early April.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.