In the April 1943 issue of Organic Farming and Gardening, our visionary founder J.I.
Rodale wrote: "The United States Government has admitted that the reason 50 percent of the men
called for the draft were rejected was because they were undernourished. Now, all these men ate
plenty of food, but this food lacked enough minerals and vitamins to make them physically fit.
"Organic fertilizer will go far to remedy this condition. It will bring back to the soil those
necessary nutritional elements it now lacks."
New information offers some evidence that J.I. Rodale was right on when he began writing about the connection between healthy soil and healthy people more than 50 years ago. Alex Jack, a health writer in Massachusetts, and Anne-Marie Mayer, a nutrition researcher in the United Kingdom, separately compared government reports on the levels of vitamins and minerals in fresh food in the 1990s and from several decades ago. Both of these comparisons revealed significant declines in calcium and iron in a variety of raw fruits and vegetables. Each comparison also noted declines in other nutrients as well, including vitamins A and C, and potassium.
What's the cause of this deterioration? Alex Jack reported on his comparison of USDA food
composition tables from 1975 and 1997 in the Spring 1998 issue of One Peaceful World, published by the Kushi Institute. Jack wrote that while vitamin and mineral content sharply declined, "calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, and other macronutrient levels" decreased only slightly. "This suggests a steady deterioration in soil, air, and water quality, as well as reduced seed vitality, that is depleting minerals...," he theorizes.
Anne-Marie Mayer, formerly an independent researcher in the U.K. and now a doctoral candidate in the nutrition department at Cornell University, reported her findings in the British Food Journal (99/6  207-211). She noted that "agriculture which relies on NPK fertilizers and pesticides, that adds little organic matter to the soil and that alternates between soil compaction and ploughing, could produce food depleted in minerals."
"My belief is that both the genetic and environment effects are important, and both have changed in the past 50 years," she adds.
(Mayer is now working on a proposal to study how the nutritional quality of rice in South Asia is related to soil nutrients and how the nutritional quality of the rice affects the dietary intake of local people. In this case, "the historical data is difficult to verify," she explains. "Therefore I am now looking at regional differences in food quality and trying to relate those to both the causes and effects.")
When OG Senior Editor Cheryl Long read about the disturbing trends revealed in these two reports, she called the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ask how its scientists were seeking to determine the cause. She learned that this deterioration of our food supply was not being studied, so she has written to the Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, asking him to get answers. Here is the letter that she wrote and we published in the November/December 1999 issue of Organic Gardening. (And as soon as we receive a response, we'll post it for all to see).