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Damaged Soils, Human Health and how to Improve the Quality of Food

by Martin Lane(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 205 - April 2013

Documentary evidence shows that mineral content of UK-grown food crops has declined by an average of 60% since 1940. This decline has been matched by a commensurate fall in soil humus levels and in beneficial soil organisms. If the Earth were represented by a football, then the thickness of our fragile soils on its surface would be one millionth of a micron. In the last century Man has created deserts, dustbowls and poisoned waterways, but has still failed to learn the lessons. The soil and the sea are the only two things on Earth that support life and we have abused them both. In the European Union the two flagship items: the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy are protectionist, fatally flawed and unsustainable.

Barren soil
Barren Soil

We humans all live on a relatively tiny patch of ground, and a few statistics may help to show just how vital it is that we look after our fragile soils and our water supply.

  • Only 29% of the world’s surface is covered by land and fresh water;
  • Only 33% of that land is suitable for agriculture (9.5% of the world’s surface);
  • Only 9.3% of that land is suitable for arable crops (2.7% of the world’s surface);
  • Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh water (97.5% is sea water);
  • Only 1% of the world’s fresh water is available for human use (0.25% of the water on the planet);
  • The average depth of topsoil is 150mm (6 inches).

There are 9,000,000,000 mouths to feed and it takes 5000 litres of fresh water to produce 1 kilogram of rice!

Even in this country it is obvious that all is not well. Country dwellers are reminded daily that something is wrong. Most pastures are now dotted with the ubiquitous plastic buckets containing mineral supplements, without which livestock now cannot thrive or reproduce themselves. Despite this, many animals display multiple symptoms of mineral deficiencies. The short life of the average modern dairy cow is an animal welfare disgrace. The commodity markets have seen to it that modern arable farming systems are predicated solely on yield and margin. Cereal crops are sold graded by cleanliness, bushel weight, moisture content, mycotoxin levels and protein content. Meat, fruit and vegetables are rated on physical quality and quantity.

poisoned water
Poisoned Water

What is missing is any reference to nutritional quality. Some fruits such as apples are rated on taste, but that is very subjective. The old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” only holds true if that apple contains all the correct nutrients. If a soil is denuded of its nutrient content, it is obvious that all crops grown in it will be deficient, unless they happen to be bio-accumulators of a specific mineral.

The human population relies on these same soils. We eat the livestock animals and the food crops, so are equally susceptible to deficiencies. The most common mineral deficiencies in man are well documented, but we are encouraged to look only for pharmaceutical solutions. These are merely sticking plasters if used to treat diseases and conditions arising from symptoms of mineral deficiency.

Some years ago we conducted laboratory analysis of the mineral content of the best quality fruit and vegetables to be found in all major UK supermarkets. All but some pears from southern Italy failed on a number of counts. The following are a few examples of common deficiencies:


This crucial element is associated with 300+ metabolic functions. Cattle are prone to ‘staggers’ (hypomagnesaemia). In humans, magnesium deficiency is beginning to be associated with coeliac and Crohn’s Disease. Long ago midwives knew that pregnant women with pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, potentially fatal conditions, responded well to Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), both as a treatment and a prophylactic. So why do we not insist on adequate sources of magnesium in our diet? As magnesium is the principal element in chlorophyll and therefore all plant tissue, there can be no good reason not to ensure adequate presence in the soil.


Iodine deficiency is the greatest worldwide cause of brain damage, goitre and other thyroid disorders, affecting 30% of the population. Geologically older soils have lost most of their iodine content through leaching. The only parts of the UK with adequate soil iodine are the windward coastal strips, supplied by a combination of sea spray and the historical use of seaweed as fertilizer. Thirty-two countries in Europe alone are considered iodine deficient. The most effective initial action is to iodize table salt in affected countries, but iodine is also essential to livestock and we have seen improvements in crop quality resulting from its inclusion in fertilisers. This would indicate a strong case for bio-fortification. In the USA, where salt (even in iodized form) is now considered unhealthy, clinical symptoms of deficiency are reappearing. A recent study showed that women in Okinawa, with a high, seafood-orientated diet, have 1/80th of the incidence of reproductive organ cancers suffered by their counterparts in Midwest USA.


Field Science has been working on bio-fortification of selenium and other essential nutrients in livestock grass and forage crops for twelve years. For the past six we have also worked with a major retailer on the bio-fortification of human food.  We have shown that it is possible to raise selenium to optimal tissue levels in cereals, fruit, vegetables and meat. The potential benefit to human and animal health is considerable. As with iodine, most of Europe is endemically deficient in selenium and these minerals are inter-dependent.

Bio-Fortification Versus GM

Bio-fortification should never be confused with mass medication. It represents a totally ethical way to provide optimal nutrition, both here and in developing countries where populations rely on a very few staple crops, grown on ancient, un-glaciated and degraded soils. Unlike the present form of GM food production, there are no associated risks to the environment. Nor is there any risk of it enabling large companies to achieve hegemony over world food production, or endangering the bio-security of the precious few existing food crops.

Let us be clear; in its present form GM is merely a ‘bolt-on’ to the current unsustainable, high chemical input, high CO2 output form of agriculture. It offers nothing except a modern form of serfdom for the farmer and no improvement of health to the consumer. If allowed into our country, GMOs will inevitably cross-pollinate with existing, non-GM crops and destroy the livelihood of organic farmers and all those who want no part of it. However, if in future, a way can be found to produce GM crops that pose no threat to existing wild and cultivated species of plants and animals (not to mention bees and butterflies) and can be independently proven to be safe, then it should be considered. But only if it offers real benefits to the planet and society, rather than just to corporate profits.

Sustainable Fertilisers for the Future

One of the main reasons for the collapse in food nutritional quality is the use of only three nutrient minerals as fertilisers - despite there being over ninety in a healthy soil.

As a company, we are in the process of identifying sources of desirable nutrient minerals derived from by-products, wastes and hitherto overlooked sources. The prospects are very encouraging, but as yet there seems to be very little understanding on the part of government and NGOs. For instance, the FSA produced a very unscientific report in 2008 concluding that there was no iodine deficiency in the UK, whereas the WHO reported that it is an ongoing health problem throughout Europe. In 2011 a report from Hampstead NHS showed that one third of tested teenage girls were iodine-deficient, putting their as yet unborn children at risk. This prompted a recommendation from the British Dietetic Association that girls should drink more milk. Actually, the iodine content of our milk is serendipitous, deriving largely from the use in dairies of teat washes that contain iodine as a disinfectant. This iodine finds its way into the slurry pit, thence onto the land and into the forage crops. A few years ago the VMD was minded to ban its use, until we supplied the manufacturer with supportive data showing the extent of UK deficiency, of which they were obviously unaware.  

Food as Medicine

Unlike many areas of the world, the UK and Europe are blessed with relatively deep, resilient soils of glacial origin. It is not too late to change the way we produce food to a sustainable system that is not at the expense of yield or the environment. All involved parties should work together to produce food of guaranteed quality and nutritional value. This could be of pivotal importance to the health of nations and save organisations such as the NHS a very large amount of money. The principle should be that food can provide the best medicine, but only if it meets stringent nutritional criteria.

Where, other than in the case of humans, do we have an animal species that chooses a diet that makes it sick? Where else do we see a hierarchy that permits consumption of a diet so toxic that much of that society's resources are spent dealing with the obesity and chronic diseases that are the inevitable consequence?

Just like in the banking industry, the profits of the processed, homogenized, sugared, plasticized, artificial sweetener-ridden junk food industry are privatised. The cost of the disorders and diseases that result are socialized; in other words, borne by the taxpayer.

Vote with your feet. Dump the junk!

Don’t wait for government to legislate, because it won’t.


  1. Ann Fillmore said..

    Excellent survey of our soils -- I'm glad we're seeing more of this.
    But you did not mention the biggest soil nutrient depletion culprit of them all -- GEOENGINEERING and the constant inundation of our atmosphere, thus of all of us and our soil, with aluminum oxide, barium and strontium. Unless we stop GEOENGINEERING with chemtrails this planet is done for.

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About Martin Lane

Martin Lane Technical Director of Field Science Ltd has had a lifelong interest in farming. After leaving the RAF, where he did Cold War service flying in the UK and Germany, he developed an interest in the declining standard of plant, animal and human health resulting from industrialized chemical agriculture ( 40-60% of the essential mineral content of our food has disappeared since 1940, to be replaced by an average of 200 chemical residues). Martin worked with a pioneer in the improvement of livestock health via optimal nutrition and then formed a family-owned company specializing in the improvement of plant, livestock and human health through re-mineralizing soils after many decades of synthetic fertiliser and chemical abuse.

Martin still does a lot of work with livestock, dairy and arable farmers to improve the nutritional quality of crops and livestock and also works with a major retailer to provide meat, fruit and vegetables of much improved nutritional quality. He also re-mineralizes sports and amenity land to improve quality and provide a natural resistance to disease. Martin believes that the best way to improve human health is to re-create healthy soil. Healthy soil produces healthy plants for the consumption of healthy animals and humans alike. We should never forget that 47% of the NHS budget is spent treating diseases and conditions which are the direct and indirect results of poor quality nutrition. Martin may be contacted on Tel: 01935 873933;

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