26 October 2001

Researchers warning over new granule

FALLING levels of selenium in food have prompted crop nutrition specialist New-Trition to launch a new granule containing the "semi-metal" which can be broadcast or blended with fertiliser.

But a specialist researcher fears widespread use of selenium-enriched fertilisers could interfere with work to pinpoint the elements true benefits.

New-Tritions move is pro-active and anticipates possible moves by the new Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, set up by the Department of Health to advise the government and the Food Standards Agency, says the firms Frank Worsencroft.

Selenium has no effect on plant growth but appears to offer protection against cancer and heart disease, says Mr Worsencroft. "Many countries are looking at ways of increasing soil selenium to boost levels in the human diet."

Reduced imports

Reduced imports of hard wheats from Canada, where soils are generally higher in selenium than in the UK, is a key reason why levels in UK food are dropping, says Surrey Universitys Margaret Rayman who has studied selenium for 10 years.

"Its also possible that acid rain makes selenium less well absorbed by plants, though thats still only speculation.

"It has a number of beneficial health effects." A small trial in the US suggests it reduces the risk of various common cancers, Dr Rayman notes.

Too soon to say

"But in my opinion it is premature to suggest that we need to add selenium to our soils. We need to run much more detailed and controlled long term experiments to determine its health effects.

"There is nothing to stop people supplementing their diets with selenium. My worry is if we start adding it to the soil too soon, it would effectively cause contamination and make it impossible to tell what the true benefits are." &#42

Selenium debate

&#8226 Amounts in food decreasing.

Health effects still unclear.

New selenium fertiliser granule.

Could undermine health studies.

SELENIUM DEBATE

&#8226 Amounts in food decreasing.

&#8226 Health effects still unclear.

&#8226 New selenium fertiliser granule.

&#8226 Could undermine health studies.