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Microb Ecol Health Dis. 2007 Dec;19(4):209-228.

How to use the world's scarce selenium resources efficiently to increase the selenium concentration in food.

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Norwegian University of Life Sciences, As, Norway.


The world's rare selenium resources need to be managed carefully. Selenium is extracted as a by-product of copper mining and there are no deposits that can be mined for selenium alone. Selenium has unique properties as a semi-conductor, making it of special value to industry, but it is also an essential nutrient for humans and animals and may promote plant growth and quality. Selenium deficiency is regarded as a major health problem for 0.5 to 1 billion people worldwide, while an even larger number may consume less selenium than required for optimal protection against cancer, cardiovascular diseases and severe infectious diseases including HIV disease. Efficient recycling of selenium is difficult. Selenium is added in some commercial fertilizers, but only a small proportion is taken up by plants and much of the remainder is lost for future utilization. Large biofortification programmes with selenium added to commercial fertilizers may therefore be a fortification method that is too wasteful to be applied to large areas of our planet. Direct addition of selenium compounds to food (process fortification) can be undertaken by the food industry. If selenomethionine is added directly to food, however, oxidation due to heat processing needs to be avoided. New ways to biofortify food products are needed, and it is generally observed that there is less wastage if selenium is added late in the production chain rather than early. On these bases we have proposed adding selenium-enriched, sprouted cereal grain during food processing as an efficient way to introduce this nutrient into deficient diets. Selenium is a non-renewable resource. There is now an enormous wastage of selenium associated with large-scale mining and industrial processing. We recommend that this must be changed and that much of the selenium that is extracted should be stockpiled for use as a nutrient by future generations.

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