It has been reported that adding trace mineral selenium to UK wheat may cut the risk of cancer and increase the overall health of the population. However, many are opposed to the idea on the grounds that it would be enforced ‘mass medication’.

According to a speech made by Professor Steve McGrath, of Rothamsted Research, at the British Science Festival this week, research has shown that adding selenium to fertilisers used in UK wheat production could have a wide range of health benefits. These include a stronger immune system, lower cancer rates and slower cognitive decline. Selenium also forms part of the body’s antioxidant defence system, preventing damage to cells and tissues.

The findings came from Biofortification through Agronomy and Genotypes to Elevate Levels of Selenium (BAGELS), a ‘farm to fork’ project (2005-2009) sponsored by Defra through the Sustainable Arable LINK Programme. The project looked at whether selenium levels of UK-grown wheat could be increased safely by using selenium-containing fertilisers, without causing harm to the environment.

“His research suggests that adding about 20g of selenium per hectare of wheat would give 10mg in each slice of bread,” reported The Times Online. However, the idea has been compared to the ‘mass medication’ of the population through adding fluoride to water and has outraged campaigners.

Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidelines recommend a daily dose of 0.075 mg a day for men and 0.06 mg a day for women, and its Eatwell website states that bread is already a good source of selenium. Other sources include Brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs.

The FSA states that people who eat a balanced diet including meat, fish or nuts, “should be able to get all the selenium you need”.