Selenium is an essential micronutrient to sustain human and animal health. However it is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in malnutrition. Low levels of selenium (Se) have been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer in humans Selenium is mainly provided by plant foods (such as cereal), meat and dairy products. The content of selenium in food depends on the concentration of selenium in the soil where plants are grown or animals are raised.
In Finland, the soil is particularly poor in Selenium and in the past, the population in Finland has had high levels of selenium deficiency. In 1984, the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry decided to implement selenium supplementation through fertilizers to increase the very low concentration of selenium in the nation’s food chain. Since the 1970s, the National Public Health Institute has been monitoring the blood selenium levels of the Finnish adult population.
The effects of this policy have been monitored and the amount of selenium that is added to fertilizers has been adjusted twice on the basis of research results. In 1990, the program was so successful in raising the amount of selenium in plants and, consequently, the human selenium status that the higher application was removed. Today, the amount of selenium added to fertilizers is 10 milligrams per kilogram.
Since the selenium supplementation of fertilizers, the selenium levels of Finnish foods have clearly risen, which has consequently enhanced the blood selenium levels of the population. As a result, the consumption of Selenium is adequate, and a satisfactory selenium status in children and adults is appreciated.
The Finnish experience of selenium fertilization is unique in the world and demonstrates the safety, effectiveness and cost-efficiency of this practice to raise Selenium levels in a population. Such a policy could be replicated in other countries where micronutrient deficiencies in soil are targeted. For example, in New Zealand and some mountainous regions of China, the amounts of Selenium in soils have also been found to be scarce.
Micronutrient supplementation through fertilizers in Finland demonstrates the importance of fertilizers as an effective agricultural tool to improve the nutritional health of people in many parts of the world.