NFU Spokesman Refutes Unhealthy Fruit and Vegetable Claims

Mon, 27 Feb 06 | Broadcast on BBC Radio 4

The deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, Peter Kendall, has strongly refuted suggestions that modern farming methods have resulted in the mineral content of fruit and vegetables becoming seriously depleted.

Recent research has suggested that the mineral content of fresh foods declined between the 1940s and 1990s, most noticeably between the 1960s and the 1980s and that this coincided with the change from mixed to more intensive farming using chemicals and sprays, which damaged the soil.

But speaking on BBC Radio Four's 'Today' Mr Kendall insisted that this argument was not backed up by science.

And he said that a recent OECD report - 'Health at a Glance' - had stated that from 1960 to 2003 the life expectancy of someone born today had gone up by eight years in the UK and three years overall.

"So whatever we're producing, however well farmers are now doing, people are living longer, they're growing taller, they're healthier and I think that just refutes this notion," he said.

"And when I hear about the soil being in bad condition, I look at the fact that yields are going up and the crops are healthier."

He agreed, however, that there were increasing concerns about children's health with regard to obesity, etc., but he also pointed out that only 21% of children ate the recommended five a day fruit and veg.

"You need a very mixed and healthy diet to get all your minerals requirement," he said.

"Minerals tend to be more prevalent in meat and poultry; we add calcium, which is now (required) by law, into bread and milk and what have you. These things have been going on for a long time. The key is to have a balanced diet."

But speaking on the same programme Graham Harvey, agricultural story editor of The Archers and author of the book 'We Want Real Food', backed the research claims.

And he suggested that although people may be living longer, the last 20 years of their lives were "likely to be beset with degenerative disease", which he believed was caused by poor nutrition.

"Vegetables and fruit are a major source of minerals and if we're producing them on too large a scale, too intensively, then our intake of those minerals goes down," he said.

"I'm not saying there aren't other factors but nutrition is overwhelmingly important. I could quote Linus Pauling who was a double Nobel Prize winner who said you can trace every sickness, every disease, every ailment, to mineral deficiency.

"And between the 1960s and 1980s the mineral contents of our everyday foods fell. We don't know precisely the reasons for that, we need research to find it out, but there are clearly agronomic aspects of it, the way we produce our food."

Source: DeHavilland Public Affairs Briefing


ANH Comment

These comments are surprising considering the wealth of evidence to suggest in particular trace and ultra-trace elements are in decline in commercially produced foods, which originate from intensive agricultural production systems.  For a review of the UK situation please see David Thomas' analysis of UK data over a 50 year period:  

Nutr Health. 2003;17(2):85-115. Related Articles, Links

A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991.

Thomas D.

Mineral Resources International (UK) Limited Silverdale, Lower Road, Forest Row, East Sussex, RH18 5HE, UK. [email protected]

In 1927 a study at King's College, University of London, of the chemical composition of foods was initiated by Dr McCance to assist with diabetic dietary guidance. The study evolved and was then broadened to determine all the important organic and mineral constituents of foods, it was financed by the Medical Research Council and eventually published in 1940. Over the next 51 years subsequent editions reflected changing national dietary habits and food laws as well as advances in analytical procedures. The most recent (5th Edition) published in 1991 has comprehensively analysed 14 different categories of foods and beverages. In order to provide some insight into any variation in the quality of the foods available to us as a nation between 1940 and 1991 it was possible to compare and contrast the mineral content of 27 varieties of vegetable, 17 varieties of fruit, 10 cuts of meat and some milk and cheese products. The results demonstrate that there has been a significant loss of minerals and trace elements in these foods over that period of time. It is suggested that the results of this study cannot be taken in isolation from recent dietary, environmental and disease trends. These trends are briefly mentioned and suggestions are made as to how the deterioration in the micronutrient quality of our food intake may be arrested and reversed.

In addition to an actual decliine in key minerals and nutrients there are several other factors that contribute to a 'nutritional gap' in conventional, western diets.  These include:

  • Increased consumption of processed foods which severely reduce mineral and nutritional content compared with wholefoods

  • The cultivation of plant genotypes which allow for impoved yield, storage life and cosmetic appearance yet rarely provide equivalent nutrients to ancestral genotypes

  • The early harvest of crops to facilitate national and international transport, which prevent nutrient uptake or development

ANH will shortly be launching its Food4Health campaign which will bring all these, and other issues, together.