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What you didn’t know about Selenium

Oslo, October 24, 2014
Adding selenium to YaraMila and YaraBela fertilizers ensures better human and animal health. The Finns have truly appreciated the benefits.


Ever heard about selenium? Probably not. A deficit of selenium in the diet spells health trouble, and soils in Europe are often lacking in this element. The situation was particularly acute in Finland, but years of using Yara fertilizers has produced clearly positive results.

Adding selenium to the food chain

"Because of geochemical and climatic reasons, selenium is not available for plants in Finnish soils, so animals cannot get it either," veterinary physician Sanni Värränkivi explains. "Primary selenium deficiency causes white muscle disease in young, fast-growing animals. They cannot walk, their muscles don't work."

Just over a generation ago, per capita daily selenium intake of the Finnish population was generally about 30 micrograms a day, roughly half of the recommended level for adults. Studies indicate that low selenium intake can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. After a series of massive research programs, authorities concluded that the safest antidote was to introduce the element into the food chain by adding it to fertilizers.

Meat and milk products 

"Through fertilizers, we put inorganic selenium in the field and the plant converts it to organic form and that's the most natural way for animals to consume the selenium," Sanni explains. "Consequently, meat and milk are very rich in selenium and the main sources of selenium in the Finnish diet.

70 percent of selenium is in meat or milk products," adds Seija Luomanperä, Yara's representative in Finland's Selenium Working Group.

Selenium was added to fertilizers back in 1984-85, and grains showed a 15-fold higher Selenium content after the first harvest. After three years the daily Se uptake in Finland had more than doubled. Yara is a member of Finland's Selenium Working Group, an expert association that monitors the progress, and includes the ministries of Agriculture and the Environment.

The knowledge gained here can have wider application. Trials conducted by Yara in the UK and Ireland this year showed that Selenium content was not consistently met in grass and forage production, with many control groups containing less than half the recommended level.

"Analysis of soil is recommended as deficiencies can vary on a field by field basis," says Yara UK Agronomist Jez Wardman. "This will allow decisions to be made based on all macro and micro nutrient availability that can impact upon animal health and production." 

Related article:

Added selenium improves Finland's daily diet

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