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Soil, food security and human health: a review

Oliver, M. A. and Gregory, P. ORCID: (2015) Soil, food security and human health: a review. European Journal of Soil Science, 66 (2). pp. 257-276. ISSN 1351-0754

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1111/ejss.12216


Direct effects of soil or its constituents on human health are through its ingestion, inhalation or absorption. The soil contains many infectious organisms that may enter the human body through these pathways, but it also provides organisms on which our earliest antibiotics are based. Indirect effects of soil arise from the quantity and quality of food that humans consume. Trace elements can have both beneficial and toxic effects on humans, especially where the range for optimal intake is narrow. We focus on four trace elements (iodine, iron, selenium and zinc) whose deficiencies have substantial effects on human health. As the world’s population increases issues of food security become more pressing, as does the need to sustain soil fertility and minimize its degradation. Lack of adequate food and food of poor nutritional quality lead to differing degrees of under-nutrition, which in turn causes ill health. Soil and land are finite resources and agricultural land is under severe competition from other uses. Relationships between soil and health are often difficult to extricate because of the many confounding factors present. Nevertheless, recent scientific understanding of soil processes and factors that affect human health are enabling greater insight into the effects of soil on our health. Multidisciplinary research that includes soil science, agronomy, agricultural sustainability, toxicology, epidemiology and the medical sciences will facilitate the discovery of new antibiotics, a greater understanding of how materials added to soil used for food production affect health and deciphering of the complex relationships between soil and human health.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of Crop Science
ID Code:40759

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