NUTRIENTS ARE ESSENTIAL FOR HUMAN HEALTH
Fertilising Crops to Improve Human Health | Part 07
In recent years, there has been greater understanding of the need for agricultural systems to not only produce sufficient food from crop outcomes, but for them to also be nutritious and healthy. If this sufficiency is not enough to cover human need,
Human Health Issues Associated with Nutrient Use in Organic and Conventional Crop Production by Holger Kirchmann
and Lars Bergstom.

Main Message

In recent years, there has been greater understanding of the need for agricultural systems to not only produce sufficient food from crop outcomes, but for them to also be nutritious and healthy. If this sufficiency is not enough to cover human need, then it will result in malnutrition, starvation, and ultimately shortened lifespan – so adequate, health-filled production is an obvious key requirement.

So, providing sufficient and healthy food for everyone is probably one of the most important survival issues for mankind into the future. The eradication of famine and malnutrition has been identified as the most important task on Earth (UN Millennium Project, 2005).

A number of field studies and national agricultural statistics clearly indicate that organic crop production cannot provide sufficient food for the current and growing population in the world. Crop yields are too low, mainly due to lack of
nutrient supply.

The other major issue is the quality of the food produced. Crops may contain too little of the nutrients essential for both human and animal well-being.

This review discusses this issue and draws several conclusions worthy of respectful reading.

Key Points

  • Organic crop production cannot provide sufficient food for either the current or expected world population.
  • No evidence exists that organically grown crops are of a superior quality or that the use of mineral fertilisers deteriorates food quality. In contrast, controlled application of plant nutrients in mineral form enables improvement of
    crop quality.
  • Large-scale organic production will bring about two major changes—food supply may not be secured and shortage of certain foods will affect the dietary composition.
  • Focus should first of all be on proper nourishment. It seems that any possible differences in product quality may actually be of minor importance for health as long as the supply of essential nutrients is sufficient.

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Complete Scientific Review Extracts are:

From: Human Health Issues Associated with Nutrient Use in Organic and Conventional Crop Production by Holger Kirchmann and Lars Bergstom, Chapter 10, Fertilizing Crops to Improve Human Health: A Scientific Review, October 2012 (ISBN: 978-0-9834988-0-3).

Fertilizing Crops to Improve Human Health: A Scientific Review, is a joint publication by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) and the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA).

In recent years, there have been intensive discussions about agricultural systems that can produce sufficient amounts of nutritious and healthy food. Cropping systems can affect human health in several ways: through production of insufficient amounts of food and products of insufficient quality.

Enough Food

If the amounts of crops produced by agricultural systems are not sufficient to cover human needs, this will result in malnutrition, starvation, and ultimately shortened lifespan. Food shortage is definitely one of the most important aspects when discussing health issues relating to food, although excessive diets, over-consumption and obesity can be a main cause of untimely death in
rich countries.

A number of field studies and national agricultural statistics clearly indicate that organic crop production cannot provide sufficient food for the current and growing population in the world. Crop yields are too low, mainly due to lack of nutrient supply, especially of N. Providing sufficient and healthy food for everyone is probably one of the most important survival issues for mankind in the future. Food production is coupled to a moral imperative, as adequate food supply is a cornerstone of human welfare.

Development of agricultural practices ensuring food sufficiency is a basic human requirement, a precondition for satisfactory social conditions and a necessity for civilizations to flourish. Lack of food, on the other hand, is a tragedy leading not only to suffering and loss of life but also to inhumane behaviour, political instability and war (Borlaug, 1970).

In fact, eradication of famine and malnutrition has been identified as the most important task on Earth (UN Millennium Project, 2005). Thus, when discussing different forms of crop production, it is of the utmost importance to examine without prejudice the forms of agriculture that can contribute to food sufficiency and security, at present and in the future.

Nutritious and Healthy Food

The other major issue is the quality of the food produced. Crops may contain too little of the nutrients essential for animal and human well-being, reduced levels of protective antioxidants and anticancer compounds, high levels of unwanted elements, pesticide residues, toxic microorganisms or high concentrations of natural toxins.

Our review provided no evidence that organically grown crops are of superior quality or that the use of mineral fertilizers deteriorates food quality. In contrast, controlled application of plant nutrients in mineral form enables improvement of crop quality. Despite the great interest in food quality among supporters of organic agriculture, we conclude that focussing on food supply and dietary composition is most important for human health.

Conclusion

Although claims about nutritional benefits are used as an argument for organic products, our review corroborated earlier studies also showing that organic products do not have a superior quality.

Considering the dietary composition (i.e. proportions of carbohydrates to fats, intake of products with sugar and white flour, consumption of fruits and vegetables, amount of fish or meat eaten, etc.) has a great impact on human health (Willet, 1994; Taubes, 2001; Trichopoulou and Critselis, 2004).

Focus should be on proper nourishment first of all. It seems that any possible differences in product quality may actually be of minor importance for health as long as the supply of essential nutrients is sufficient, which can be regarded to be a healthy diet (Ames and Wakimoto, 2002).

Our analysis indicated that large-scale organic production will bring about two major changes—food supply may not be secured and shortage of certain foods will affect the dietary composition.