Effects of nationwide addition of selenium to fertilizers on foods, and animal and human health in Finland: From deficiency to optimal selenium status of the population

J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2015:31:142-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2014.04.009. Epub 2014 May 20.


Despite different geological features the Nordic countries are generally selenium-poor areas. In each country various factors such as food importation and life-style determine the selenium (Se) intake. Due to an extremely low Se intake in the 1970s in Finland, 0.025 mg/day, an official decision was made in 1984 to supplement multinutrient fertilizers with Se in the chemical form of sodium selenate. Almost all fertilizers used in Finland since 1985 have contained Se. Currently all crop fertilizers contain 15 mg Se/kg. Finland is still the only country to take this country-wide measure. In a national monitoring programme, sampling of cereals, basic foodstuffs, feeds, fertilizers, soils, and human tissues has been carried out annually since 1985 by four governmental research organizations. Sampling of foods has been done four times per year and human blood has been obtained annually from the same (n=60) adults. The accuracy of analyses has been verified by annual interlaboratory quality control. During this programme the selenium concentration of spring cereals has increased on average 15-fold compared with the level before the Se fertilization. The mean increase in the Se concentration in beef, pork and milk was 6-, 2- and 3-fold. In terms of Se, organically grown foods of plant origin are generally comparable to products produced before the Se supplementation of fertilizers. Milk from organically fed cows is 50% lower in Se than the usual milk. The average dietary human intake increased from 0.04 mg Se/day/10 MJ in 1985 to a present plateau of 0.08 mg Se/day/10 MJ, which is well above the current nutrition recommendations. Foods of animal origin contribute over 70% of the total daily Se intake. The mean human plasma Se concentration increased from 0.89 μmol/L to a general level of 1.40 μmol/L that can be considered to be an optimal status. The absence of Se deficiency diseases and a reference population have made conclusions on the impact on human health difficult. However, the rates of cardiovascular diseases and cancers have remained similar during the pre- and post-supplementation indicating medical and life-style factors to be much stronger determinants than Se. The nationwide supplementation of fertilizers with sodium selenate is shown to be effective and safe in increasing the Se intake of the whole population. Also, the health of animals has improved.

Keywords: Dietary intake; Foods; Human selenium status; Selenium fertilizers; Soil.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Welfare*
  • Animals
  • Crops, Agricultural / chemistry*
  • Crops, Agricultural / growth & development
  • Crops, Agricultural / metabolism
  • Deficiency Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Deficiency Diseases / veterinary
  • Fertilizers*
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Selenic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Selenic Acid / metabolism
  • Selenic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Selenium / administration & dosage*
  • Selenium / deficiency
  • Selenium / metabolism
  • Selenium / therapeutic use


  • Fertilizers
  • Selenium
  • Selenic Acid