Sam McCullough
Resources and Information about Organic Argiculture
Declining Nutrients in Industrial Agriculture

Since 2009, Nash’s Organic Produce has participated in wheat trials for the purpose of finding varieties of hard red and soft white wheat that will grow well in Western Washington. These trials are held by Drs. Kevin Murphy and Stephen Jones of Washington State University, who have studied the decline in nutrients in spring wheat in the U.S. ["Relationship between yield and mineral nutrient concentrations in historical and modern spring wheat cultivars." Kevin Murphy, Philip Reeves, Stephen Jones, published online 3 April 2008 © Springer Science & Business Media B.V. 2008] They have determined that over the past 75 years, wheat has been bred consistently for yield, and consequently, when mineral content is measured (an indicaton of protein content), some values have fallen as much as 50%. They measured iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, calcium and selenium.

Other recent studies are showing equally disturbing declines in the nutritional quality of commercial fruits and vegetables. According to a 2004 study by Donald Davis, a biochemist at the University of Texas who evaluated data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1950 to 1999, nutrient values of conventionally-grown produce have also declined in the past 50 years. The important nutrients that fruits and vegetables provide to humans are protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C. Davis’ study showed declines ranging from 6 percent for protein, to 15 percent for iron, 20 percent for vitamin C, and 38 percent for riboflavin.

Davis holds industrial agriculture’s reliance on crops that grow faster and bigger responsible for the decline. After half a century of breeding for yield, the varieties commercial farmers select now are unable to manufacture as many nutrients when compared to organic fruits and vegetables.

Declining nutrients in industrial agricultureCommercial agriculture and the food industry emphasize quantity or cost over quality. Americans are accustomed to paying only about 9% of their household income on food, as compared to 36-49% in developing countries. The food industry capitalizes on people’s desire for "bargains" and de-emphasizes the decline in nutrients. Al Bushway, a food-science professor at the University of Maine and a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, has stated that declining nutrients in vegetables and fruits could be made up by eating other foods or by drinking more milk.

If the food most of us are eating gives us only half the nutrition we used to get, is it any wonder that we see so many malnourished, obese Americans? The true advantage of eating fresh, local, organic food is that it is harvested at the height of its nutritional potential, giving your body quality nutrients for maximum health.