By Anthony Fletcher
2/14/2006 - Pioneering research into the demineralisation of the earth could have significant consequences for food quality - and even the future of the planet.
The SEER (Sustainable Ecological Earth Regeneration) Centre, which undertook the first scientifically controlled field trials of soil remineralisation in Scotland, says that unless vital nutrients and elements are placed back into the soil, then the quality of food - and the well-being of the planet - will deteriorate.
The centre was established as a Scottish charity in 1997, following 13 years of pioneering work by co-founders Moira and Cameron Thomson. The charity claims that agricultural produce at the infertile, acidic upland site in Perthshire has been transformed through the reintroduction of rock dust.
The charity has now begun developing and marketing the product. The innovation is featured in Graham Harvey's new book, 'We Want Real Food', which tackles the demineralisation of food.
This has become a growing issue. Dr David Thomas, a primary healthcare practitioner and independent researcher, recently made a comparison of government tables published in 1940, and again in 2002.
His conclusions make alarming reading. For example, the iron content in 15 different varieties of meat had decreased on average by 47 per cent, with some products showing a fall as high as 80 per cent, while the iron content of milk had dropped by over 60 per cent.
Dairy foods have experienced a 90 per cent fall in copper, while the calcium loss in high-value Parmesan cheese was an extraordinary 70 per cent, implying a considerable dilution of the original highly concentrated recipe.
The nutritional quality of vegetables has also fallen. "Why is it that you have to eat four carrots to get the same amount of magnesium as you would have done in 1940?" he asks.
Founding director Moira Thomson is convinced that if rock dust were put back into the soil on a global basis, then many problems connected to malnutrition, disease and the poor nutritional quality of food would disappear.
"Food is only as good as the earth it comes from," she told FoodNavigator. "This is why we set up Rock Dust Ltd last year, the trading arm of the charity."
The rock dust, which comes from in Perthshire, is 420 million year old Scottish volcanic rock containing over 78 minerals and trace elements.
The rock dust is digested by earthworms that deposit mineral-rich wormcasts, thus increasing mineral availability, microbial activity and natural fertility of soil and compost. The product remineralises soil and compost to boost soil fertility.
Thomson also says that the remineralisation of the earth is a vital component of an holistic approach towards looking after our planet. "Severe and unusual weather indicates that we are living during the final stages of the present interglacial," she said.
"The signs are that we are nearing the end of our present fertile period, and one of the things that triggers this is mineral depletion. The amount of rock crushed by the action of the glaciers advancing and retreating, and the minerals and trace elements released from the crushed rocks determines how long each interglacial lasts."
Consumers are of course becoming increasingly conscious about what they eat, and the food industry is responding. Thomson believes there are reasons for being positive about the future.
"Attitudes have changed, and public awareness has improved, thanks to media coverage of issue and improvements in freedom of information," said Thomson. "And the feedback weve had about rock dust has been very positive.
But we are the only people in the UK pushing this. There is no soil protection policy in the UK right now, even though the department of agriculture says that it is working on it.
"The main issue here is that our soil has been abused, and we are reaping the consequences. But awareness is growing, lots of people are now buying rock dust, and there is growing media interest. We have been frustrated for the last 20 years, but things are getting better - there are positive things happening in a pessimistic world."