The foundational purpose of agriculture is to grow nutritious food and healthy fiber. The often-repeated marketing mantra of agribusiness to justify the use of products and practices of questionable repute is “We need to feed the world.”

What if agriculture took this mantra to heart, and considered their possible role and responsibility for public nutrition and public health?

What if nutritious food as medicine were considered a national security priority, and producers were directed and compensated for producing food with a positive impact on public health?

The present panic around coronavirus is a case in point where the nutritional integrity of the food farmers produce might have a significant and direct impact on public health.

“It is generally known that Se deficiency, both in the agricultural food products and in the human organism, is associated with various degenerative diseases, notably in viral infections.”1 Lipinski describes how selenite is an effective treatment for enveloped viruses. The majority of viral infections we are concerned about are enveloped viruses,  including the common cold, influenza, Ebola, and coronavirus.

How might public health be different if all the food being grown contained adequate levels of selenium to prevent viral infections in the general population?

It seems reasonable to imagine that cold and flu infections might drop to levels approaching zero, and possibly, probably even, coronavirus would be unable to gain enough momentum to be called a pandemic.

Finland made a systemic effort to increase selenium levels in their soils and has been successful in raising the selenium status of their population according to this report.2  This is an example of the capacity agriculture has to influence public health.

The language around regenerative agriculture is still evolving. There is a well-understood need to regenerate soil health. Of equal importance is regenerating plant health and livestock health. Ultimately though, we should be having a conversation about regenerating public health.

Farmers can have a bigger impact on public health than doctors and hospitals because nutritious food as medicine can prevent people from becoming ill. This is something doctors and hospitals are not engaged in.

Lets not just “feed the world”, let’s feed the world healthy and nutritious food as medicine.

(And if you are curious about further implications of selenium for public health, look up the dozens of papers describing selenium as an effective cancer treatment on Google Scholar.)


Post update May 2nd, 2020. Emerging research indicates there is indeed a connection between selenium status within a population and Covid 19 cure rate.3 You can read a popular article describing the findings here.

1. Lipinski, B. Can Selenite be an Ultimate Inhibitor of Ebola and Other Viral Infections? 6, 319–324 (2015).

2. Stoffaneller, R. & Morse, N. L. A review of dietary selenium intake and selenium status in Europe and the Middle East. Nutrients 7, 1494–1537 (2015).

3. Zhang, J., Taylor, E. W., Bennett, K., Saad, R. & Rayman, M. P. Association between regional selenium status and reported outcome of COVID-19 cases in China. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. (2020) doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqaa095.

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