If we were to look at a little pinch of healthy soil under the microscope, we might be surprised to see that instead of a pinch of inert dirt, we would be looking at a teaming universe of life and activity almost beyond our comprehension. A galaxy of millions of microorganisms, all contributing to an ecological web of life. [Ref 1]
To grow healthy food we need healthy soil – healthy soil emanates from physical fertility, chemical fertility and biological fertility. A simplification for sure, but industrial farming has concentrated largely chemical fertility (fertiliser) – with the emerging chemical revolution in farming after the second World War, and the concentration of efficiency, (more land, less people to farm it) an aggressive drive to grow low-cost food was forged. [Ref 2 and 2a]
The life in the soil is the alchemy that allows plants to translate minerals (zinc, copper, manganese etc) for healthy plants and therefore healthy animals including us. It is a teeming biome much like the microbiome of our own guts, made up of bacteria, fungus, spores and other microbes. The human gut microbiome has garnered much attention of late for being vital as the seat of our immune system, important for energy production, and nutrients, and even the font of good mental health. [Ref 3] Yet, we are prepared to ingest potent anti-biotics for all kinds of (non-life threatening) maladies (eg acne, colds which are in any case viral). We even use antibiotics prophylactically in animal husbandry, which eventually end up in us or in our environment. We have of course, become aware that this over-use of this vital medicine which may have compromised its use not only for ourselves but the whole of mankind, and yet this overuse is still not controlled to acceptable standards. What is perhaps less well known is that we also spray glyphosate potent antibiotic on our crops (and thereby our soils) – glyphosate was patented (amongst other functions) as an antibiotic agent. [Ref 4] Glyphosate as well as being used to control weeds, is used as a desiccant (to dry out crops before harvest). Hurrah! We have no weeds but we also have no life in the soil – the very life that nurtures us. Glyphosate whilst perhaps not killing us directly, disrupts the shikimate pathway in bacteria which kills them, [Ref 5 and 5a] in the environment and in us. Without our “gut buddies” (bacteria, and even our viome, the contribution of virus strains to our internal environment) our own health is of course compromised.
The World Health Organisation tells us that three centimetres of topsoil takes 1,000 years to regenerate, and if current rates of degradation continue, all of the world’s top soil could be gone within 60 years. About a third of the world’s soil has already been degraded, according to Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing populations and soil degradation. [ref 6]
Soil plays a key role in absorbing carbon and filtering water, the FAO further reported. Soil destruction creates a vicious cycle in which less carbon is stored, the world gets hotter, and the land is further degraded.
Despite this gloomy picture, there is some glimmer of hope. The solution lies in seeing our soil, food production and health as one ecosystem instead of in separate silos. Instead of sustainable agriculture, making sure things don’t get worse, there is apparently another solution. Regenerative agriculture is an emerging front runner to look at food production in an enlightened way. The regenerative agriculture movement’s advocates are confident that topsoil can be generated more speedily with the right application of method. Regenerative agriculture looks at keeping topsoil cover and planting through it (rather than ploughing) and using free ranging animal grazing to fertilise and trample soil, and where possible does not use any chemical intervention. Despite the seemingly “Good Life” /hippy promise, regenerative agriculture yields are competitive. [Ref 7 and 7a] The obvious benefit is that the ecosystem of nature is preserved together with smaller farms potentially benefitting local communities. Communities can engage in a more human way with the producers of their food re-growing a vital connection between the consumer of food and the land.
While the majority of us live in cities and are compelled to go to a supermarket to pick up food in plastic, tended to by a computerised checkout it is difficult to feel the connection between the food in our hands and how it arrived at our local store, and soil that made it possible. In generations past, starvation from crop failure was very real, but for us, thank goodness, without the immediate threat of the food supply drying up the connection is difficult to make. Perhaps understanding that life on this planet is our soil, we are the soil – it is us. Isn’t that why we call this planet, our home – The Earth?
‘Soil is essential for the maintenance of biodiversity above and below ground. The wealth of biodiversity below ground is vast and unappreciated: millions of microorganisms live and reproduce in a few grams of topsoil, an ecosystem essential for life on earth…’
From: Australian Soils and Landscape, An Illustrated Compendium
‘a single gram of soil can harbour up to 1010 bacterial cells and an estimated species diversity of between 4·103 to 5·104 species’ – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905020/
‘promoting and maintaining.., a stable and efficient agricultural industry capable of producing such part of the nation’s food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom, and of producing it at minimal prices … and an adequate return on capital invested in the industry’. Source: Agricultural act of 1947 / https://bahs.org.uk/AGHR/ARTICLES/33n1a7.pdf
‘Since the end of World War II in 1945, British agriculture has become ‘production orientated’. In the second half of the 20th Century famers were encouraged to maximise yields through the use of increased artificial inputs and improved plant and animal genetics’ – http://www.ecifm.rdg.ac.uk/postwarag.htm
‘Probiotics provide a neuroprotective role by preventing stress-induced synaptic dysfunction between neurons. Treatment for as little as two weeks created an appreciable decrease in ACTH and corticosterone levels in rats, illustrating the suppressive effects of probiotics on HPA axis. Probiotics have the potential to diminish the HPA axis response to chronic stressors, and prevent or reverse physiologic damage. Human and animal studies of probiotics show similar reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms.’ – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
‘… the patenting of glyphosate as an antibiotic to be used against a wide spectrum of microorganisms was based solely on effects in protozoa (not bacteria) and its effectiveness was dependent on the addition of di-carboxylic acids (US Patent No. 7771736 B2) – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5705608/
Under appropriate feeding conditions, glyphosate inhibited the incorporation of shikimate into all three aromatic amino acids, and radioactive shikimate accumulated in the tissue. The results lead to the conclusion that glyphosate interferes with the shikimate pathway at or prior to the formation of chorismate. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC440734/
The way glyphosate works is that it interrupts the shikimate pathway, a metabolic function in plants that allows them to create essential amino acids. When this path is interrupted, the plants die. –
NOTE: There are articles questioning Dr Seneff’s approach:
Overall, a scrutiny of the method used in these commentaries by Samsel and Seneff reveals a major flaw. These authors employ a deductive reasoning approach based on syllogism, which is formed by two or more propositions used to generate a conclusion. The first proposition is generally related to glyphosate’s properties (e.g., glyphosate is a chelator of Mn) and the second proposition is related to human physiology (e.g., sperm motility depends on Mn). From each of these pairs of propositions, Samsel and Seneff conclude a causative link of glyphosate with the etiology of different diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5705608/
Kate Cook is a nutrition and wellness expert and an international speaker. She is also founder and director of the Harley Street clinic The Nutrition Coach. Her clients include the Bank of England, JP Morgan, Network Rail, Abellio, Skanska, Gardiner and Theobald, and EDF Energy.