Originally published by Eco Farming Daily
by Anneliese Abbott
In the 1940s, this was one of the hottest topics in the soil conservation movement. Researchers had just discovered that vitamins played a critical role in animal and human nutrition, and from the 1920s to 1950s they found that a score of mineral elements — especially trace elements like manganese, boron, copper, zinc, iron, and molybdenum — were essential for plant, animal and human health.
The discovery of certain trace elements cleared up centuries-old confusion about what caused the geographic distribution of some mysterious animal and human diseases. The most famous discovery was that iodine deficiencies in certain soils caused endemic goiter and cretinism. The solution was simple — add a little bit of iodine to salt for both animals and humans, and the goiters and other iodine deficiency symptoms disappeared. Similarly, soil deficiencies of selenium and cobalt were linked to several animal diseases, which could be treated with supplements.
Quite logically, the link between soil deficiencies of these three elements and diseases in both humans and animals made many people wonder what role soil fertility might play in human nutrition. “Even if you prescribe the right sort of food, how are you going to know that your carrots, or meat or greens come from a soil that has packed them full of minerals?” an Ohio conservation educator named Ollie Fink asked in 1941.
It was an important question. If infertile soils produced mineral-deficient plants and the animals eating those plants suffered from mineral deficiencies, then wouldn’t the humans eating those deficient plants and animals also suffer from ill health? Were fruits and vegetables always healthy, or only if they were grown on fertile soils?
These were the questions that many people were asking in the 1940s. And they turned to one main source for information on the connection between soil and health — William A. Albrecht.