Disease as Censor
In the end Nature takes us in hand. As always any who disobey her laws invite their own retribution. Disease is her reply to those whose actions are in flagrant contradiction to her commands.
The place of disease in Nature calls for some reflection. How does it arise? Why does it occur and where? What does it do? How is it combated? Let us take some of the easier questions first. Disease is not introduced by man. It occurs in Nature and always has. It is found in wild life, sometimes in quite severe manifestations. Epidemics among wild animals are by no means unknown; even our very healthy English hedgerows show occasional diseased bushes or branches or plants. This is significant. It suggests that disease has a place in the natural order.
Disease is the means adopted by Nature for removing the unfit; it may be considered a normal accompaniment of old age when the organism is worn out, as is clearly seen in the case of trees; old trees are usually diseased and this condition advances on them until they cease to live. A tree is a very resistant organism so that its death is a slow one which we notice. In the case of a smaller plant the resistance is less and the plant perishes more quickly. Disease is, in fact, only another aspect of that interlocked life on which so much stress has been laid in these pages. The immediate agents of disease are parasites, insects, fungi, and bacteria; these are themselves forms of life. It is their battle with the host on which they prey which we are watching. This battle is no symbiosis like the mycorrhizal association. Emphatically it is no living together; on the contrary, the life of the invading parasite, fungus or bacterium, spells the death of the host. But it is a living process, all the same, part of the continuous round.
Disease is the beginning of Nature's composting. So carefully does Nature prepare those all-important processes of decay -- she has the hardihood, the courage to start on the living plant or animal. This is the real function of diseases; they are Nature's censors, whose duty it is to mark the imperfect organism, condemn it, and then start the execution of the sentence by preparing it for transformation into those lower forms of life from which everything starts again.
Now we see why Nature does not fight disease. Why should she fight what is her own arrangement? In Nature there are no preventive measures against disease; there is no burning of infected material; no attempt whatever at removal; absolutely no segregation or quarantine. The diseased organism continues in free and close contact with its fellows, who are exposed to full infection. This infection may spread -- the inference is that it spreads to what is also unfit. If it could spread to the fit -- with no preventive measures at hand and no segregation -- life would soon cease. But life does nothing of the sort: it continues richly and abundantly. This is the one proof we need to tell us that disease cannot attack the healthy organism: the simple fact that we are alive in a world which is alive.
Disease is no enemy: it is a part of the natural cycle; it has a function in Nature: it enters into the Wheel of Life. If it spreads unusually or becomes widespread and severe, this is merely a sign that the bodies or organisms attacked are lacking in some vital quality; they are imperfect, and something else, another form of life, a different creation, replaces them.
We have mentioned parasites, fungi and bacteria, as the immediate agents of disease. But to leave it at that, to describe them as the causes of disease is to misconceive the whole question. Their depredations are acknowledged, but we want to know what it is that invites them to invade the host? If we could answer this we could answer a great deal. Mr. McDonagh, a distinguished English investigator, has put forward an explanation which is most illuminating. "Every body in the universe," he declares, "is a condensation product of activity. Every body pulsates, that is to say it undergoes alternate expansion and contraction. The rhythm is accentuated by climate. Protein in the sap of plants and in the blood of animals is such a body... If the sap does not obtain from the soil the quality nourishment it requires, the protein overexpands. This over-expansion renders the climate an invader, that is to say, climate instead of regulating the pulsation, adds to the expansion. The over-expansion results in a portion of the protein being broken off, and this broken-off piece is a virus. The virus, therefore, is formed within, and does not come from without, but protein damaged in one plant can carry on the damage if conveyed to other plants. The protein in the blood of animals and man suffers the same damage if it fails to obtain the quality food it needs." (This is a very much shortened quotation from a statement supplied by Mr. McDonagh to Sir Albert Howard [The Soil and Health -- Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, pp. 187-8]. This statement is itself a summing-up of Mr. McDonagh's long book, The Universe through Medicine. Mr. McDonagh goes on to explain a third factor which affects man and animals, namely, the invasive activities of the microorganisms resident in the intestinal tract; these have played their role for so long that they have given rise to microorganisms which can invade from without; nevertheless, microorganisms do not play the causative role in disease with which they are usually credited.)
The general result of the thesis put forward is that "there is only one disease", which has its origin in the damage suffered by the protein wherein the host's disease-resistance lies.
This thesis on disease has not yet been generally accepted nor indeed is it popularly known; it is still at the stage when the language used to set it forth is highly technical. It is, however, a very reasonable and above all a very wide theory. It has the surpassing merit that it assigns to disease a place within the natural order and relates it to other manifestations of natural law; it leaves behind once for all the inhibition which causes us to look on disease as a phenomenon apart.
Even if we do not finally adopt it as our working theory we must agree to see disease as an integral part of the Wheel of Life. Provided that certain conditions obtain , but only if they do obtain, then the higher organism which is sensitive to these conditions yields place to the lower; the parasite, fungus, or bacterium, invades the host to its detriment. There is here a contest of two forms of life, for as we have said, parasites, fungi and bacteria, are themselves Nature's living creatures. They have their rights of existence; we may say they have their function, which is that of assisting in removing the imperfect. Even from our human point of view we may look on them as a most useful range of Nature's workers destined to point out to us our follies and to condemn our mistakes.
How far does this censorship extend? What is the proportion of disease to health in our world? There is no question but that health prevails; there is enormously more health than disease among ourselves, among animals, and in the plant world. Health is our birthright and the birthright of all living creatures. We shall do well never to forget this, for it is the most important of all the facts which we have to grasp.
Moreover, there is a stage beyond which the censorship does not operate. Nature has her limits in this matter; not even the parasites, fungi and bacteria, can escape her severe dominion; when they have fulfilled their part, they pass away. When the diseased organism has finally decomposed, the chain of disease is interrupted. The disease organisms may survive independently for a time, but there is no mechanism by means of which they can continue for long apart from a suitable host; if they reappear it is because such a host is provided. Otherwise they perish.
Nature's arrangements for disposing of diseased matter are indeed more than adequate. They are not violent like our fire or poison sprays; they are less combative, but they are effective. She merely drops the diseased matter on the ground and starts again. With the return to the soil of decaying matter, in whatever degree that matter is itself diseased, disease ceases. With the final turning of the Wheel of Life there seems to be, by some process in which we can but rejoice, a fresh start; the impoverishment, the sickness, the lack of condition, which have been so consistently handed on from one group of created things to the next, vanish when the Wheel makes full circle.
If a healthy soil thus refuses to offer a final welcome to the organisms of disease, the explanation is no doubt to be sought in the fact that here the Wheel drops below the level of what is alive; it dips into the inert stage of existence. The bodies of the soil organisms, and these include any disease spores which may for a time survive, break down into the mineral condition; whatever it is that we call disease cannot conceivably here survive. (It might possibly do so by some process corresponding with the Actinomycetes, i.e. where the protein chain is handed on before the inert stage is reached. There is a hidden field of investigation here. Disease is, of course, also handed on from one living body to another living body, namely, by inheritance from parent to offspring.) That is why we so commonly think of the kindly earth as a purifier. This is a correct conception and one that does justice to Nature's wonderful moderation and self-control in staging the long battle between disease and health.
The supreme fact that emerges is that we have to trace the chain, whether of health, whether of disease, back to the soil. If disease ends here, so does it also begin; if, on the contrary, there has been health, so does it continue. It is in the soil that Nature locates her first bit of machinery -- that mass of organisms which being alive create a superb fertility; from the superb fertility should be derived a superb vegetable growth -- the earth's green carpet -- which passes into the stomachs of animal or man, who thus in turn partake of their share of perfect health. But the opposite is also the case. Any weakness in the soil is passed on to the plant, from the plant to the animal, and presumably from plant and animal together to ourselves.
Let us apply our ideas in the first instance to plants. As this question of disease is still at the stage of acute controversy, we shall from now on base our narrative on a given example or examples. These will be set forth in brief without details and will all be drawn from actual farming or gardening experience. Some will be important and on a large scale, some simple and quite casual. Though limited in number they will be typical and will serve to represent a body of supporting evidence which is gathering volume from day to day and which is open for examination and argument to all who care to consider its bearing and significance.
There is the question of climatic boundaries; we are not to contravene these. In other words, we have not the power and probably never shall have to make an arbitrary geographical or topographical distribution of crops; we can only place in certain environments plants suited to these environments. This means that we must have regard to soil-type, level, temperature, moisture, wind force, and all other factors which may be brought under the heading of climate in the wide sense and consider their relation to the plants within their influence. As a matter of fact, the limits of our action become quite clear in agricultural operations; plants suited to one locality frankly will not thrive in another. Once we recognize this principle it is easy to apply in practice, and undoubtedly some incidence of plant (and animal) disease would be avoided if the rule of right distribution were rather more strictly observed.
(It has been argued that, in order to invite disease-resistance on the lines indicated in the text, we must confine ourselves entirely to those plants which are native and indigenous to an area; transference of a species from any part of the world to any other breaks down such quality of this kind as it may have. Incidentally, this would eliminate from Europe practically all our useful vegetables, including the potato, and much of our fruit; it would even eliminate wheat. To argue thus is to ignore all Nature's elasticity and adaptive capacity. it is only when we go too far and try to grow species which are thoroughly unsuitable to the conditions (or try to keep animals unlikely to be comfortable in the prevailing climate) that we invite consequences. A good example of the different relations to disease of suitable and unsuitable varieties was experienced at the Experimental Station at Pusa in India in the period 1910-24. Three types of vetch [Lathyrus sativus] were grown year after year side by side in smallish plots; of the three types the unsuitable variety was always heavily infected with greenfly, another variety mildly, and the suitable variety never; the infection did not spread. The differences lay in the root systems; only the surface-rooted vetch was able to draw in a sufficiency of nourishment and was properly aligned with the local soil. Howard: An Agricultural Testament, pp. 162-3.)
But to a plant "climate" is something much more than the conditions attaching to a particular geographical zone. Climate includes all those effects of moisture, warmth and air with which it is in immediate contact. Leaf and root are equally sensitive and, following changes in these factors, will resist, or quickly succumb to, disease. Now these, and all other incidence of disease, are best studied when no interference is attempted. Only then is the demarcation between health and disease exactly true to natural law. Our best hope of learning about disease is to allow it to operate unhindered.
It is therefore necessary in experimental work when disease is to be dealt with, to adopt from time to time this principle of non-interference. A single small example must suffice, but it will be illuminating. At the Institute of Plant Industry at Indore in India part of a small field had accidentally become flooded and was waterlogged in July. On this field a crop of grain (Cicer arietinum) was sown; in October, about one month after sowing, the crop was attacked by the grain caterpillar, but only those parts of the field were infected which had been subject to the flooding. The areas corresponded exactly, for, as it happened, a map had been made of the flooded area which could be used for comparison. Nothing was done to check the caterpillar attack, which never spread to the rest of the field nor to the fifty acres of the same crop growing alongside. (Howard: The Soil and Health -- Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, p. 164. Where no contrary indication is given the illustrations cited in the present chapter are from Sir Albert Howard's writings, where full details will be found.)
It is beyond dispute that the insect attack was invited by the condition of those plants which grew on the previously waterlogged soil. (An exactly similar coincidence between waterlogged patches in a field and subsequent disease [Take-all in wheat] is described by Lady Eve Balfour in The Living Soil, p. 97.) What is surprising is the really marked immunity of the other plants so fully exposed to infection. Yet is this remarkable? Should we not expect this difference between the healthy and the unhealthy host? Let us take an even more interesting experience, also from experimental work in the East. At Quetta in Baluchistan, attacks of greenfly were observed in the boughs of fruit-trees; it was suspected that faulty aeration of the soil round the roots was the cause. So it proved to be; simple cultivation and opening up of the air channels stopped the evil. But more than this was done. It was discovered to be possible to induce an attack at will or to correct it, and that not merely on the same trees but on the same bough; by over-irrigation while the leaves were forming greenfly were found to settle on the lower leaves; the irrigation was amended and the upper foliage was completely clean; the greenfly never spread from the unhealthy to the healthy leaves -- surely an unexampled illustration of demarcation of disease. Here disease was induced or checked at will by attention to the conditions in which the tree was growing.
Climatic conditions acting as a principle factor are beyond doubt very important in the life of the plant; flood, frost, cold, wind, sun will destroy plant life. But the plant's resistance depends chiefly on how it is fed. It is above all from its food supply that its health is derived. As the sources of nutriment are perfect or imperfect, so will it flourish or invite disease. Let us repeat: "If the sap in plants does not obtain from the soil the quality nourishment it requires; the protein overexpands... the protein in the blood of animals and man suffers the same damage if it fails to obtain the quality food it needs." Here is the gist of the matter. We are what we eat; and animals are what they eat; and the plants which both we and the animals eat are what they absorb from the soil; and the plant nutriments in the soil are what is transformed out of the wastes returned to the soil. A soil swarming with life becomes perfectly synthesized protein in the plant.
We are therefore not surprised to hear that those nations who have learnt how to keep their soils fertile enjoy a very marked immunity from disease among their crops. Broadly speaking this applies to all Eastern countries though in various degrees; some Eastern peoples are more perfect in their agriculture than others. But disregarding those differences there is more than a marked contrast between the East and the West on this point: there is a profound distinction. In the demarcation of disease as it affects the growing of crops in the East and in the West the situation that emerges is dramatic. While our crops are swept by every sort of pest, costing us millions of pounds in damage and entailing costly and most laborious preparations in defence -- perhaps every week sees some new nostrum put on the market, while governments join in the merry game with repellent and severe control legislation and streams of warning and advice administered through endless committees, the members of which very faithfully fulfil their given task of tabulating new insect, fungous and virus pests -- the East knows nothing of all this. No Indian or Chinese or Japanese or Malayan cultivator uses an insecticide or a fungicide, a spray or a tar-wash; he could not afford such things and knows nothing whatever about them. Yet his crops are disease-free; more, they are robust. They will resist conditions which positively invite disease, as when the Afghan tribesmen allow their vines to sprawl over the bottom of ditches in a way most calculated to invite mildew; there is no mildew. Such minor attacks of disease as occur in these peasant cultivations are so negligible as never to be remarked upon; they are a totally unimportant factor; they play no part in the life of the East.
Moreover, this standard of health in crops is handed on for generations. The running out of the variety, i.e. the failure of reproductive power, that bane of our modern agriculture, is unknown in the East. The scientist working on the selection of wheats in India can draw on native varieties two thousand years old; the same is true of the sugar-cane, as is proved by ancient Sanskrit names. There are few, if any, changes in methods of growing; seed is conserved and not imported. This experienced agriculture, localized, self-sufficing and ancient, is not swept by the ravages of disease.
It must not be assumed from this description that plant disease is totally unknown in the East -- that would be a contradiction of natural law and therefore an impossibility. Disease is certainly known, but in the first place it is rare, and in the second place it does not spread. It is in this latter direction that we get so startling a contrast with our own agriculture. In the Harnai Valley on the western frontier of India healthy and diseased wheat exist side by side. A few areas of low-lying wet land are always affected by eel-worm; to the East the wheat continues for a thousand miles without a break, and this wheat is perfectly healthy. Now there is a constant stream of traffic both ways, which means that the cysts of the eel-worm must be borne on the feet both of animals drawing the carts and of man, for no preventive measures have ever been taken; infection must have been going on for years; it has never once spread. The eel-worm has had every chance, but the healthy wheat resists without difficulty and has always done so. Could a clearer. proof be given of the total unimportance of the parasite itself as the cause of disease? It is not the parasite but the unsuitability of the wet soil for wheat growing which starts a chain of weakness rendering these plants proper subjects for attack. There is a similar case of healthy and diseased rice in Bengal, where small deep-water areas of rice are always infected with the Ufra disease, which however never spreads to the bulk of the crop; if it did, one of the greatest rice-producing areas of the world would be ruined. These examples have been on a huge scale and have been regularly repeated over centuries.
It was eventually from the East that illumination came. The practice of the Indian peasant, so successful in its utter contempt for plant disease, gave the clue for a bold departure from the conventional standpoint in agricultural research. It brought back to mind tentative ideas as to the possible knowledge to be gained by allowing plant disease to run its allotted course, ideas which had many years previously been put forth by one of our foremost exponents of botanical science (Professor Marshall Ward of Cambridge). From the combination of Western theory and Eastern practice was born a new theory of disease resistance which has been revolutionary.
The work establishing it was carried out at three very different centres in India, Pusa in the plains, Quetta in the Baluchistan desert, and Indore on the Central Indian plateau. It was initiated by two British scientists, Albert and Gabrielle Howard, who after a few years' apprenticeship to local conditions soon learnt how to grow disease-resistant crops. (The reader should distinguish between the claim that crops and animals can be disease-resistant or disease-immune. Complete immunity is a very rare quality seldom conferred by Nature and something quite outside the usual operations of disease.) First the soil was dealt with and was brought up to the highest standards of fertility. Thereafter, in spite of the protests of colleagues no insecticides or fungicides, no tar oils, sprays or sulphur washes were used; no material was burnt; nothing whatever was done to check disease. Sometimes conditions were deliberately conceived to induce it and in this way to provide infective material next to healthy crops; the infection never spread; the crops, grown throughout on a fertile soil, needed no protection-they could defend themselves. The experimental areas were soon in a flourishing condition; they stood out from the surrounding countryside by reason of their superb foliage and appearance, for the experiments had surpassed local achievements. As one of them was afterwards to declare, they had learnt all that was necessary for healthy crop-growing without disease from two sets of professors -- the peasants and the pests. (Throughout the last eight years spent at the Indore Institute there were only two small exceptions, both in themselves interesting. One, the case of the Cicer arietinum, has been described above in the text, the other was a cage of mildew due to an insufficiently fertilized soil; the plant, san hemp [Crotalaria juncea L.], in trying to set seed exceeded its strength and its weakness invited an attack of mildew.)
These significant experiences have since been amply confirmed. Evidence gathered from at least thirty countries (see Appendix A) in every part of the world tells the invariable story of healthy crops grown on fertile soil; many of the countries which can be named are our great producing areas and the crops mentioned are the staple commercial crops of our export markets; they' range from cereals to roots, fruits of every kind, tea, coffee, sugar cane, the fibres like sisal and cotton, cacao, tobacco, vine, vegetables; there is no crop that will not respond. The evidence is supplied alike by the large plantation and by the suburban plot; it covers every type of cultivation, Eastern and Western, and includes glass-house cultivation. The experience of the East, where plant disease is reduced to its normal insignificance, is at last being repeated and confirmed by pioneer farmers in the rest of the world. There results are being obtained wherever the soil has been rendered truly fertile.
Particularly convincing are the instances where what may be called a cure has been effected, i.e. where on the same area a diseased crop has been either itself recovered or a second crop of identical species has been raised which has resisted disease. A bold application of composting methods in tomato houses at Romsey in Hampshire (by Mr. A.R. Wills; the experience has been repeated by other growers) secured disease-free tomatoes. In spite of timorous official warnings the tomato haulms, badly infected with wilt, were themselves incorporated into the compost which was to be fed back into the houses; the disease failed to reappear, in accordance with that principle to which we have already attributed importance, namely, that in the lowest revolution of the Wheel Nature herself puts an end to the continuity of disease. The composting process here clearly had that effect, and these particular houses have never looked back.
Tomatoes are a good crop to watch because of their quick growth. Another very simple little example may be cited. A small but very sickly tomato plant, at the very point of death, one out of a number of healthy plants, recovered almost instantaneously and began to bloom with a good dressing of compost, given more as a matter of routine than with any idea that at this stage recovery was possible. Side by side with this small tomato house was an old pear tree, inherited by the owner with every sign of starvation and neglect; indeed, during the first summer when it was being observed it was infected with a huge band of lice crawling up the stem day by day. Here recovery took time, but with ample composting of the bed year after year and good watering, the foliage began to pick up, the life of this obviously old tree was prolonged, and some beautiful crops of very large and exceptionally delicious pears have been reaped. (No spraying of any kind was given, not even a grease-band supplied. Both the last two examples from the writer's own experience in a London garden.)
There are other forms of plant disease. Let us take parasitism of plant on plant, for it is not unusual for one plant thus to prey on another, which, we may be sure, invites the enemy only because it is starved or in some way weakened. The Indian cultivator knows this and at once supplies manure if he finds his sugar cane preyed upon by a species of Striga; the Striga disappears. Farmers in our own country will cure the nuisance of yellow rattle on their grass by allowing the dung and urine of cattle to fall on the starved meadows for a couple of years, an old practice; this has the effect of restoring the nutriment which the plant requires; it is then able to throw off the parasite. The best proof has been established by some formal experiments carried out in South Africa on witch-weed (Striga lutea), which constantly and severely infects the maize crop; dressings of humus at the rate of ten tons to the acre proved a complete cure, and the disease-free crop formed an excellent contrast to the control plot alongside, which was a red carpet of the weed. (Experiments of Mr. Timson reported to The Rhodesia Agricultural Journal, October 1938, and confirmed by official experiments at the Rhodesian Witch-weed Experimental Farm: see An Agricultural Testament, p. 79 and Compost News Letter, No. 5, pp. 17-18.) The use of organic manures has since been advocated by the Union Government for all raising of maize.
The disease-resistance thus conferred by a soil rich in humus is well contrasted with what happens when soil structure and fertility are destroyed by artificials. Long ago the inventor of the Clifton Park system of farming noted the increase in diseases of plants when artificial manures were given and their recovery under humus, and also the good taste and health of potatoes naturally manured as compared with those raised only with some dung and some artificials. (R.H. Elliot: The Clifton Park System of Farming, ed. Faber & Faber, pp. 190, 240, 241.) The same differences are constantly being noticed today. A cultivator of a fair-sized ordinary country garden happened to use compost on about one-half of his ground while he gave artificials to the other half; this went on for five years, during which period the peas, beans, onions which were grown on the composted half yielded each year very heavy crops, while the Brassicas treated with artificials became poorer each year. Cauliflowers failed to flower, club root appeared, sprouts produced very poor crops and savoys did not heart". (Mr. R. S. A. Lermuth, Gatley, Cheshire, in Compost News Letter, No. 5, p. 33.) Another grower, by chance short of compost for one row of his sugar beans, found himself faced with a crop the whole of which was "nice-looking" except the uncomposted row, where "half the plants were missing" and "the survivors were miserable stunted specimens"; incidentally compost added to a hopeless dead soil had enabled this cultivator to produce in three weeks beautiful, healthy and vigorous cabbage seedlings which attracted the attention and opened the purse-strings of passing strangers. (Mr. L.R. McKibbin, Craighall, Johannesburg, in Compost News Letter, No. 3, pp. 18-19.)
There are other tests of health besides mere absence of recognizable disease. We have the right to ask for something which shall prove in the plant what we may call positive health, that condition of well-being and of enjoyment of life of which we can all be conscious at some moments. In plants such a state of positive health is well indicated first by taste and then by keeping power. There is a growing consensus of opinion that vegetables and fruit grown with organic manures are far superior in taste to those grown with inorganic fertilizers. So definite is this view that a project has been launched and is well in hand for starting "flavour farms" to produce "flavour food". which may one day be sold at special "flavour shops". (John Drummond: Charter for the Soil and Inheritance of Dreams.) On keeping power there is some interesting evidence. We have the reliable verdict of the manager of a famous garden in Westmorland where first-class vegetables and fruit are being grown for the northern markets, who remarks that "where fungus abounds in the soil" (i.e. where the mycorrhizal association is prolific) exceptionally long-keeping qualities" are imparted to the crops when stored. Humus-raised tomatoes grown at Quetta in Baluchistan, safely made the long journey through the terrific heat of the Sind Desert and then through the moist, hot conditions of the Indian monsoon in the Gangetic plain down to Calcutta, arriving without damage or loss of quality, thus showing a capacity to withstand temperature changes which would have constituted a severe trial for a much harder fruit. On the Hampshire estate of the Earl of Portsmouth roofs thatched with straw derived from wheat grown with farmyard manure lasted ten years, those thatched with straw derived from wheat grown with artificials only five years. The difference in keeping quality in this instance is striking and depends on estate records; the facts emerged accidentally and were confirmed independently by two old thatchers in Wiltshire, who complained of the poor thatching quality of the modern straw grown on artificials.
The evidence reaches its culminating point in the inability of the plant to set seed and reproduce its kind. The reproductive organs are the most sensitive parts of any anatomy and it is not surprising that they should be affected at an early stage. The disaster is great in view of the vital character of these processes; continuation of the species is threatened. This failure in reproduction -- Nature's greatest aim -- is a growing evil in our commercial crops and has caused the most widespread concern. The constant attention of the plant breeder has to be directed to bringing out new varieties to replace those which the farmer is unable to maintain. This was never done in former times, for the whole science of plant-breeding is comparatively modern; nor, as has already been noted, has it to be done in the East. Now something like a war has developed between the breeders of new varieties of fruits and the growers, the one side bringing the accusation that the variety is allowed to perish too soon, the other that new varieties are not bred fast enough. The matter formed the subject of a revealing discussion at a raspberry conference held at our principal fruit research station, East Malling, on July 9, 1943. The lecturer, a member of the staff of the Experiment Station, stated that thirty years ago many different varieties of this fruit flourished in the favoured districts of Perthshire and produced five to ten tons of fruit per acre; gradually variety after variety had succumbed until by the 1930's only the Lloyd George was left throughout the whole seven thousand acres of this area; then this began to become weaker and was replaced by Norfolk Giant; now a new disease was attacking Norfolk Giant and threatened to destroy this too. Yet it has been found possible, in the case both of this crop and of the strawberry, to send for virus-infected plants and place them next to healthy stock. Far from any spread of the virus from the unhealthy to the healthy stock, the exact opposite happened; the virus-infected plants recovered. In the case of the strawberries it soon became impossible to distinguish the plants; the raspberries took somewhat longer, but finally secured an official pronouncement from an inspector of the Ministry of Agriculture of being completely free of disease.
There was nothing in the least unusual in these essays. Simple rules of good farming were followed, but these on principle included the return to the soil of animal wastes properly composted with vegetable matter. Provided always that this indispensable element of the animal is rendered back to the soil, excellent results can be obtained even without the special care implied in composting. Old gardener's practice in a damp climate in the north-west of England has shown first-class potatoes grown in the same spot year after year for nearly half a century; good farmyard manure was never lacking. What makes this example so interesting, small though it is and in no sense carried on as an experiment or with any idea whatever of proving a point is the way in which it contradicts prevailing anxieties. The use of home-grown seed in potato-growing has for many years been abandoned; fresh seed from other localities is always imported, it being assumed to be impossible to maintain the species in any other way. Yet this is the reverse of what should be, and another small grower, who had turned a derelict grassfield into a vegetable holding and from 1942 onward had the temerity to save his own seed potatoes was rewarded by finding not only that they were fully capable of germination but that they yielded far more than bought seed; the harvest already only two years later in 1944 was seven and a half pounds from one pound of his own seed as against the five, pounds from the bought seed.
Such small personal experiences are convincing, but the full case rests on a mass of accumulated evidence which points the same way. Nor can this be dismissed as uncorrelated seeing that those responsible for this record, whoever they may be, have all been influenced by and are following out a principle, the Law of Return. The plantation owners, farmers and cultivators who unite in relating their observations from all over the world, (see many communications in the periodical Soil and Health, mentioned in Appendix B) working in every sort of climate and on every conceivable crop for very various reasons, are yet all working to one plan. They acknowledge certain definite ideas; they realize that they are not groping in the dark, that many years' strict scientific experimentation, carried out with genius, preceded the formulation of the arguments that have stimulated and convinced them. (See list of papers mentioned in Appendix B for the written record of the scientific work carried out in India by Albert and Gabrielle Howard, which preceded or accompanied the working out of the principle of composting.) One deep conviction dominates, that the new doctrine is an old one, that it is only a statement of truths which humanity has always acknowledged however imperfectly, that it is supported by the colossal experience of the Eastern nations and also by our own past history, and that some very salient proof of lack of validity will be required to disprove it.
This salient proof can never be forthcoming. It is impossible to establish any tenets which contradict or even only ignore what Nature so plainly arranges on her own behalf; it is impossible to deny those which at every point make reference to the natural order. Disease among our crops ought to be what disease is in wild Nature -- insignificant. If it is otherwise, if it decimates our sowings or ruins our harvests, if it is in any way a matter of anxiety, it is the consequence of acts of disobedience which have been carried to incredible lengths.
Of the three categories, plant, animal, man, the plant is ultimately the strongest. It can adapt itself to a variety of conditions for a long time; it can manufacture food out of very unpromising material; it is remarkably resistant to injuries. Leaves, flowers, twigs, whole branches may be separated from it, even its roots may be pruned; one-half of a tree may be rent away and the rest will survive. Indeed, it has a unique power of restoring growth and of adding to its structure at any point in its career considerably surpassing the animal's habit of developing compensatory faculties for something lost. Possibly plants taken in the mass appear to us even stronger than they are. Owing to their number we do not much remark the single plant that perishes except when under our special notice in a garden or an orchard. Of the ordinary field crop a good portion has to be affected by disease before we pay much attention. This is a very simple point, but it makes for a certain distinction in our views of plant and animal disease, a distinction which is further fostered by our consciousness of the absence in the plant of what we call suffering.
Disease among animals obtrudes itself on our notice. It is true that disease among wild animals escapes our observation; it is a normal accompaniment of old age; the whole organism is failing. Among our domesticated animals this consequence of decline is exceptional inasmuch as only a few favourite animals, our horses, dogs, etc., are allowed to reach their natural term of years. Our animals kept for utility purposes are mostly slain, some when just past maturity, some even only when approaching it. On this count alone disease should be comparatively rare on the farm.
Another cause of animal disease can be eliminated, namely, insufficient quantity of food. From this many wild animals suffer from time to time. On the farm this can hardly be said to occur; it would not be sound policy to keep animals and fail to give them enough food. Such a mistake must be so rare as hardly to be known. Only in very special circumstances does the domesticated animal meet the danger of starvation. As we have already noted, this is the case in Africa where economic reasons tempt the population to keep too many cattle for the available grass, and also in India, where religious custom enjoins the continued maintenance of unwanted animals. (See Chapter 5.) The result in both cases is a terrible spread of disease. In general, it may be said that the domesticated animals of the East are less abundantly fed than our own, principally because the purchase of feed is out of the question.
Some importance may also be attributed to cleanliness and general care. These can be classified legitimately as climatic conditions; if any neglect creeps in, it might invite disease. Here again we can assert that our Western standards leave little to be desired. Some mistakes may be made (the cold concrete floor now advocated in cowsheds and pigsties compares very unfavourably with the beaten earth floor of the East, so much more comfortable to the animal) and isolated instances of want of care may not be infrequent, but our love of animals, combined with our very clear sense of their commercial value, is too great to permit many errors.
Taking these three considerations together, our habit of not keeping our domestic stock beyond the age of maturity, our willingness to provide them with a sufficient quantity of food, the attention we devote to their care and conditions, disease among our farm animals ought to be rare indeed; it should be almost in the nature of an accident. If it is sporadic or at any rate not insistent in wild Nature, it should be quite abnormal on the farm. How very disconcerting is it to find that the very reverse is the case; that disease is rapidly becoming the principal preoccupation of the stock-farmer, whatever the animal he has to handle, whether a racing stud, or horned stock, or poultry, or pigs, or whatever it may be.
There is no need to bring formal proof of this. It is an admitted fact which it is not possible to deny. (In 1939 out of fifteen technical committees appointed by the Agricultural Research Council of Great Britain twelve were devoted to the study of plant or animal disease. Since that date, in spite of the work of these committees, complaints about disease, especially animal disease, have become even more insistent among our farmers.) A glance at any farming paper will confirm it. Little progress has been made in combating these animal diseases, many of which have appeared recently. In spite of thousands of pounds spent on research into foot and mouth disease we are exactly where we were: we are so terrified of the spread of this infection that valuable herds are destroyed in their entirety rather than allow it a foothold; this desperate remedy is still most rigorously enforced in our own country. The new grass sickness in horses, which is almost always fatal and which has only recently appeared, defies us absolutely. Among the many other disasters with which our able veterinary services also quite fail to cope is an increasing sterility. Sterility among brood mares is very serious; the milch cow's normal twelve calvings in the course of her life have now dwindled on an average to only three; three-quarters of her usefulness has lapsed. This situation repeats in the animal the running out of varieties noted in the plant. Reproduction, the whole end and aim of Nature, for some reason ceases.
What can be the explanation of this most disquieting state of affairs? It is there for us to read if we will only do so. Looking one day at the little flags on the official wall map showing the incidence of foot and mouth disease on the continent of Europe, Lord Portsmouth observed that this disease stopped when the areas of old peasant farming were reached; his observation failed to move the official to whom he was talking by a hair's breadth. (Amusing account in Balfour: The Living Soil, pp. 123-4.) Yet the remark was very illuminating; the disease stopped of its own accord where the old mixed farming principles were still maintained.
If this important observation had passed without attracting the attention it merited, the explanation was perhaps that the subject had not yet been fully ventilated. This is no longer the case. A vital thesis has recently been advanced and has been supported by some convincing demonstrations. The thesis again arises out of observations made in India. At the Experiment Stations at Pusa, Quetta and Indore, where so triumphant a demonstration had been given of health in crops (see above), the story was retold with the animal. Three different sets of work-cattle, respectively six, three, and twenty pair, were found to be astonishingly resistant to disease, including infective disease. The degree of resistance amounted to a practical immunity and was indeed amazing; the cattle were never segregated or in any way protected and all inoculations and preventive measures were sternly refused. Now the animal population all round was heavily infected by foot and mouth, Johne's disease, septicaemia, etc., the result in the Indian cattle of insufficient feeding, but even the cattle on the experimental animal farm at Pusa succumbed; with these cattle the draught beasts were seen on more than one occasion to rub noses over a fence.
One accidental case of snake-bite, from which the animal recovered, and one very slight case of foot and mouth, which was also cured by ordinary care, occurred; otherwise there was no disease of any kind. In view of the supposedly virulent nature of the infective diseases with which contact was constantly being made, this record is astonishing; the whole period covered was nearly thirty years (Pusa 1910-1923, Quetta 1910-1918, Indore 1924-1932). The explanation cannot be mere sufficiency of feeding, for the diseased cattle kept on the experimental farm at Pusa were certainly adequately fed.
The draught animals which showed this high degree of disease-resistance were fed off quality food; here the distinction lay. Their feed was derived entirely from the land at the disposal of the scientific department which had asked for them and at the same time taken care to acquire an area of land on which enough could be grown for their maintenance. In accordance with the policy to be pursued in crop-growing all land had been brought to the highest state of fertility, and the chain of health thus started had communicated itself, first to the plant and then to the animal; these, like the crops, proved perfectly able to resist infections. As though to prove the point, when in the first year at the third Station, in 1925, quality food ran rather short because there had not been time to get sufficient crops sown, the animals slightly lost condition; the mild case of foot and mouth already mentioned then occurred. With the putting in hand of the full crop and soil fertility programme the danger was past and did not recur. The condition of these animals was so beautiful that they were in constant demand for religious processions, to the pride and pleasure of the staff.
When this interesting story became known in this country, the question was asked: could the same thing be done again? Though the idea has been put to official quarters, it is to be regretted that courage has not yet been found to repeat in a simple way the lesson from India. No experimental farm has been taken, where the soil could be brought up to the highest state of fertility, then for some years allowed to maintain stock on the healthy crops grown, and where finally the gates could be opened to one or two cases of foot and mouth to be brought into contact with the healthy stock; had this been done, the results might have ended once for all our present most destructive policy of slaughterand of burning. In view of the expense of the compensation involved in our present arrangements and the additional losses inflicted by the standstill orders for all cattle movements in the neigbbourhood of any outbreak, this experiment is overdue.
It has been left for private individuals to do what they can, the law prohibiting, however, the suggested demonstration on foot and mouth disease at private hands. But other animal diseases have yielded ground at a rate which is indeed encouraging. The rapidity with which disease among stock can be made to disappear merely by guarding the chain of health from its source in a fertile soil brings so hopeful an element into the present miserable and disquieting situation as should appeal to all. The public has the right to ask the farming world to take note of this new element and either to follow the pioneers or to disprove their contentions. As these contentions are based on experiences personally vouched for and open to inquiry the doubting attitude must prove abortive; there is no longer any reason why we should not in this island have the advantage of a supremely healthy animal population. Our climate was made for stock-breeding, our reputation stands high; but no animal husbandry can prosper unless founded on the belief that the food of beast and man must be drawn from a fertile soil, unless, in truth, Nature's chain of health be respected from its earliest inception.
The best demonstrations are where a whole farm is raised from a poor to a fertile soil condition to be followed by marked disappearance of stock disease. We have at least three such demonstrations in this country. Contemporaneously with the work being done in India two English farmers (Mr. Bancroft and Mr. Fred Bancroft) instituted a system very like the Swiss, of treating their pastures and meadows with liquid manure; this sheet composting, as it was afterwards acknowledged to be, was continued from 1911 onwards for over thirty years. The farm was a small one of 68 acres in Lancashire, lying high, 850 to 1,000 feet above sea-level. What has been the result? In 1910 it carried 20 cattle; in 1942 these had increased to 56 and a few sheep, the average milk output overtopped quite notably the average for the four nearest local districts, the profits from the farm were similarly distinctly above the local average. But what matters is that the health of the cattle became "wonderful"; that milk fever vanished; that no Johne's disease, which is stated so often to follow on the use of liquid manure, occurred; that T. T. milk could be produced, there being no reactors and the veterinary surgeon declaring the herd the best he visited.
This farming was not intended as an experiment nor was it undertaken by scientific advice, though the results were eventually, out of interest, made known (Compost News Letter, No. 4, p. 5 and No. 6, p. 32); it was done as a matter of simple farming practice, on old well-established principles, in fact, on methods handed down from a "father's grandfather". The result was perfect animal health surrounded by an ocean of prevailing animal disease.
In another case principles were eventually worked out after a lifetime of varied farming experience, embracing both milk production and more especially the breeding of valuable racehorses. In the course of this farming career a rude shock was administered when 66 per cent of cows in what had been accounted the premier herd of three counties proved reactors in a tuberculin test. Another seeming disaster was the contraction of contageous abortion by the most valuable of the thoroughbred mares. Both misfortunes were surmounted. The cattle feeding policy was radically revised with a much less wide departure from natural principles; the mare was turned out for two years on healthy grass and at the end of this period was pronounced clean, subsequently breeding four valuable colts in seven years and living to the age of twenty-two. But the real illumination came when a move was made to what seemed a most unpromising site on the Wiltshire Downs, where an acquisition was made of land so windswept, bleak and derelict, so unattractive to most buyers as best to be described as "space out of doors"; this land could grow no good grass and the cattle could only be kept alive by expensive purchase of outside feed. Yet by thorough subsoiling, ploughing and cultivation, by forgetting the poison spray and using organic manures only, this land, after less than seven years of farming, now grows some of the biggest and healthiest crops of grass and wheat that can be found anywhere in England; it produces T. T. milk and was carrying seven distinguished thoroughbred mares with foals at foot and yearlings of a class better than the owner had ever bred previously. Disease, alike of crops and stock, had become negligible. (Description with full details in Howard: The Soil and Health -- Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, Appendix D, "Farming for Profit on a 750-acre Farm in Wiltshire with Organic Manures as the Sole Medium of Refertilization", by Mr. Friend Sykes; a longer account in Mr. Friend Sykes's own book; see Appendix B. It is an additional small point of interest that on this farm the seed used for wheat has been for the last six years home grown; when bought this seed was subject to black smut; this disease is now negligible and the yield enormous. The same is stated to apply to oats and barley.)
The third case starts with a long chapter of disaster on a dairy farm in Somerset. For five years disease drained the farmer's resources and nearly ruined two herds of cattle; abortion and tuberculosis riddled the animals, few calves were born in full time and most of those few which reached full date were dead. Then the whole policy was reversed; the forcing up of the milk production by unnatural feeding was stopped; the fields were allowed to recuperate, and tons and tons of compost, made out of the straw spread in the yards, which replaced the tying-up programme in the winter, brought the soil back to fertility. Three or four years of this kind of farming restored life to a dying farm. Fifteen healthy heifer calves were born in four months; cows formerly sterile were got into calf, one cow, aged fourteen years, after being barren for three years, was due to calve; for two years the herd has been attested. Agriculture of the best type has thus been restored on land which had reached the lowest conceivable level of infertility; the topsoil has virtually had to be re-created, there having been nothing above the subsoil but a little dead dust. Now everything on the farm is teeming with health, from the soil to the animals and also to the farmer and his family full of energy and spirits. (F. Newman Turner: "Restoring Life to a Dead Farm", in Soil and Health, vol. i, No. 2, 1946.)
In these three convincing examples of farming experience, but also in many other instances, it is stated that artificial fertilizers were wholly eschewed. It is on a point such as this that the animal can be so well used to give judgment: as we have seen in a former chapter its unbiased instant verdict can be used by the farmer as a guide. The animal's choice of its food, its feeling for palatability, is closely allied with the question of health, indeed, is a part of that question; if forced to forego its natural preference, it will suffer; if allowed to exercise it, it may recover from a bad condition. There is interesting laboratory evidence on this point, showing the exceedingly rapid and indeed amazing recovery made by rats when only a small portion of food grown on organically manured soil was added to a deficiency diet, whereas a comparable ration supplied from seed grown on soil artificially manured proved to have no recuperative power whatever. (Experiments of Mr. Rowlandson and Miss Barbara Wilkinson in Biochemical Journal, vol xxiv, No. 1, 1930; abstract with graphs in Compost News Letter, No. 4. pp. 31-4.) In the field the results are at least as obvious. A herd of milking cows which had yielded 110 gallons a day when grazing a naturally fertilized field dropped its yield to 70 gallons a day when turned on to a similar field artificially fertilized. (Compost News Letter, No. 8, p. 11.) Pigs, on the other hand, will recover from white scour if allowed to eat turves rich in humus or soil from fresh natural molehills (Lady Eve Balfour: The Living Soil, p. 125), while one use of a phosphate fertilizer is to reverse the picture and make growth so unpalatable as to "keep the rabbits away". (Compost News Letter, No. 3, p. 13.)
There is nothing that need surprise us in such facts. They agree perfectly with what we noted above about plants; artificial fertilizers ruin plant health; this weakness cannot but be passed on. Health in animals is an end condition established out of a long preceding building up. It is the final proof of the proper synthesis and passing of protein from one section of the Wheel to the next. This chain must never be interrupted; it must be guarded; above all, it must go back to its real source -- living soil.
We come to human disease and we come to a difficult problem. Disease, we have already conceded, is a true, a proper, an admitted thing in Nature. It would be a false ideal to suppose that we can entirely eliminate it in our crops or in our. beasts; how then can we hope to do so in ourselves? The laws we are debating are profound; some disease there must be.
Nevertheless we are entitled to rebel against the wide prevalence, the ubiquity of disease in our midst to-day. There is an excess of ill health among us. Each winter sees us subject to colds and influenza and fears about the increase of other diseases only too clearly express a popular apprehension on this subject. This fear is in itself a sign of weakness. People in good health forget all about their health; they seldom mention it; they take it for granted. The early Victorian attitude on the topic of children's health is frequently described as rather brutal, and it was; but it was a brutality which sprang from a kind of strength, which could afford to take health for granted and despise anything else, even in the young. This very simple fact is more significant than it seems. It indicates, it is true, that we have advanced in standards of gentleness and pity, but it also betrays the unpleasant truth that we are much more preoccupied with health than we were a very short time ago. If it is true, to quote only two examples, that we spend £300 millions a year in this country and £700 millions in the United States of America on sickness services, and that without counting loss of efficiency, we are indeed subjecting ourselves to a colossal expenditure and to colossal losses; if it is true that even in a prosperous section of our population less than one-tenth of those examined can be pronounced as in first-class health, (Pearse and Crocker: The Peckham Health Centre, Allen & Unwin, 1943, 333 pp.) then it is surely time to look about us and see what we would be at.
Can we draw light from the history of disease? Can we point to useful contrasts between the peoples of one continent or climate and another? Can we find any communities of human beings alive to-day who can supply us with some sort of indication of the conditions which would lead up to better human health? Only brief and general answers can be attempted to these questions, which call for more medical knowledge than most of us possess. But a few facts can help us clear our minds and lay the foundation for whatever instruction each one of us may subsequently be able to acquire.
Perhaps the first thing to note is that the demarcation line between health and disease has appeared to shift to and fro more markedly in the case of human beings than with either plants or animals. There are two possible explanations. It may be really so, because man, being the highest, i.e. the most complicated organism, is also the most delicate in Nature and the way he has lived has increased this delicacy. This thesis has yet to be proved, and perhaps, on the whole, the layman looking on the human body would be inclined to judge it as uncommonly resistant, endowed with remarkable strength, rather than the reverse. It may also be that the shiftings between human health and disease appear to us marked because we have at least some small amount of historical information on what disease has meant in our human past.
Our most dependable records come from Europe, which for many centuries was greatly ravaged by plagues and epidemics. These scourges were known both to the Greeks and the Romans, but were intermittent; they seem to have set in sweepingly towards the close of the second century A. D. It is a reasonable deduction that the cause lay in the rapid deterioration in the fertility of the Mediterranean regions, the soils of which undoubtedly began finally to give out about this time. North Africa, from having been a vast corn-growing granary, turned over to largely desert conditions; Greece, South Italy and Sicily became agriculturally derelict, a condition which has persisted. Restoration was scarcely attempted. The balance was restored by the opening up of new lands, the cutting down of the virgin forests in Germany, North Europe, Britian, the colonization of Gaul and Spain. Fresh races, of remarkable stamina and vigour, flooded in. For a long time the rich stores of fertility in the lands on which they newly settled kept them in good health.
But disaster overtook the peoples. The early Middle Ages were marked by the spread of fresh plagues. The habit of living in crowded cities and the failure to practice the very fine habits of personal hygiene familiar to the Greeks and the Romans, who in their sunny Mediterranean climate were accustomed to living out of doors and who knew a great deal about keeping the body clean and fit, contributed; the spread of pestilence, intensely dreaded, became a dominating fact in social life.
Is this state of affairs again to be linked up with the agricultural problem? In Chapter 7 we saw that the European agricultural system in the Middle Ages was not perfect; the treatment of animal wastes was crude and inadequate. Nevertheless it was good as far as it went. Perhaps that is where the weakness lay. The fault about European agriculture was that it did not go far enough, in the sense that it offered neither sufficient amounts of food nor sufficient varieties of food to those depending on it. The prevalence of scurvy for centuries is certainly to be traced to the absence of vegetables, many of which were not commonly grown until the sixteenth century, a fact to which importance may be attributed. But there was also a terrible lack of food, especially of fresh food, in the winter: and the freshness of food is of vital importance to health. Owing to the absence of roots, animals had to be killed, their meat had to be salted down; in fact, both animals and humans invariably starved during the winter months. No doubt the rich were well supplied -- we read of Gargantuan feasts, but the common people hardly knew how to exist. The results were exactly what we see in the East to-day: malnutrition, plagues and malarias (agues).
The change came with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The introduction of additional crops, especially roots, saved Europe; it saved, in particular, the animal population. The increased dung must have added greatly to fertility. The result is to be traced in restored human health. Plagues and pestilences disappeared. Only smallpox, a dirt disease, lingered, to be conquered by medical means and attention to hygiene. Perhaps the food eaten by the various populations was at its best towards the end of these centuries.
From that time onwards various factors combined to prevent the continuation of good standards of nourishment. In our own country increase of population was accompanied by much pauperization; even had quality of food been available it could not have been bought by all. The upper and middle classes were, however, rather well fed during the best part of the nineteenth century and tended to indulge in that arrogance of the robust health outlook already noted. But this was not universal and there were many untoward signs. With the opening of our own era health began to be better understood, especially that of women and children. Then some improvement took place, largely the result of more sensible habits. But the upward movement has since declined disappointingly. The expectation of life has been lengthened, but illness, especially sub-acute forms of illness, are distressingly common.
We can once again presume the results of a depressed agriculture working on soils which have become notably depleted of their fertility during the last fifty years. The story of former centuries is being repeated to-day. Worn-out soils are bringing their inevitable concomitant of lack of stamina. Not the evils of our industrial life, but the insufficiency of our farming is at fault.
If the history of European health can thus be written in terms of European agriculture and more especially of European soil fertility, with graduations and changes which can to some extent be traced or at least surmised, can any deductions be made from the state of health prevalent elsewhere in the world? The facts are not simple, for the picture is too various. That exceeding poverty leads to malnutrition by reason of sheer insufficiency of food is obvious; many eat only once a day, are poorly clad, and ignorant of the first laws of health; among these malaria, plague, cholera, and hookworm find millions of victims. There is also starvation due to accidental failure of crops where climates are extreme and facilities for importing other food non-existent; but accidental failure of crops is not failure of agriculture. There is much prevalent disease in many parts of the world, combined with a quality of disease-resistance which seems to emerge in rather a startling way; we meet "islands" or even whole areas of abounding health and vigour, which impress themselves on our notice.
This is the most helpful line of inquiry. What is the explanation of these remarkable instances of almost ideal health shared by whole populations? Where are they to be found? The world owes it to Sir Robert McCarrison to have first found such a community. By drawing attention to the tribesmen of the Hunza valley on the North-West frontier of India he put the crown on an immense series of experiments and writings by which he had conclusively traced the very great differences in standards of health among the races of India to differences in their diets. (See Bibliography of 145 scientific papers by Sir Robert McCarrison in The Medical Testament issued by the County Palatine of Cheshire Local Medical and Panel Committees. Researches summed up in Nutrition and National Health, Cantor Lectures, Royal Society of Arts, 1936.) As medical officer of the Gilgit area Sir Robert McCarrison found these hillsmen the most vigorous people of the many vigorous tribes in North-West India. Their powers of endurance are amazing; they can walk the sixty miles to Gilgit, do their business, and return, thinking nothing of it. Some of our most common diseases are unknown to them; they scarcely know what ill health means. Their diet was found to consist of whole-wheat stone-ground flour, fresh milk and milk products, seed of pulse crops, vegetables and fruit.
There are other examples of admirable health in human society; the Eskimos and the islanders of Tristan da Cunha are both cited. Their diets are different, the Eskimos living principally on sea animals and sea birds, often raw, with a very scanty supply of vegetable matter or milk (a very restricted diet), the islanders on fish, potatoes, eggs, some milk, butter and a few vegetables. Both these diets differ materially from Hunza diet. The kind of food therefore does not seem to be the final criterion; nor is there similar preparation, for the tribesmen of the Hunza valley cook everything together in one pot, whereas the Tristan islanders eat only one food at a time.
The common factor as to food seems to be first its freshness and then its wholeness. The Eskimos compensate themselves for having to eat preserved food in the winter (they preserve fruits and blossoms in ice) by eating some raw food throughout the year, some organs of sea animals, and a great deal of fish oil. All three peoples eat their food whole, that is, they do not subtract germ or husk from grain, and, as already stated, they eat almost the whole of the animal. Primitive peoples have a great deal of empiric knowledge about what parts of an animal to eat, and assign specially important organs to pregnant or nursing women; they know which part of an animal will most quickly restore their strength if starving.
Important as this point may be, the matter does not end there. It only begins. We must go further back. What is common to these diets is that they are drawn from perfect agricultures. The agriculture of the Hunza valley surpasses in the faithfulness with which the laws of Nature are carried out that of any of the other Himalayan peoples; for hundreds of years every form of waste, including human wastes, has been composted and faithfully returned to the land. It is an additional point that the water used for irrigation is glacier water carrying finely divided silt, which may not improbably have the effect of renewing the mineral riches of the soil (Chapter 4).
It may seem odd to compare with this admirable cultivation what is done by the Eskimos or the Tristan islanders. The first cannot be said to have any agriculture; they draw their food almost exclusively, the Tristan islanders very largely, not from the land, but from the sea. It is just this which is so illuminating. The sea is, as the land ought to be, inexhaustible. Every form of waste to which it gives rise sinks back into it; the infinitesimal amounts we withdraw in the form of caught fish are obviously made good by the carry down of streams and rivers. We cannot interfere with the sea; we cannot mine it as we have the land. Sea food is, therefore, the safest of food, and, eaten fresh, can maintain a wonderful degree of health.
We may add to these examples and some others a new mass of evidence collected at first hand by an American dentist, Dr. Weston Price. This investigator undertook to examine the dental state of a number of peoples by personal investigations on the spot. He spent many years in collecting data and travelled many thousands of miles, his journeys taking him among the Swiss of the Loetschental valley, the inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides, the Eskimos, the North American Indians, Melanesian and Polynesian tribes of the Pacific Isles, many tribes of Africa, the Australian aborigines, the New Zealand Maoris, the Torres Strait islanders; finally he examined many thousands of skulls dating from the preColumbian period on the coast of South America and also such remnants of these ancient tribes as still linger in these parts. His work forms an overwhelming and most convincing array of facts, proving beyond a shadow of doubt the profound, direct and inescapable influence of diet on human health; even the hardiest sceptic must be impressed by the massive nature of the evidence assembled by this scientist. (Weston A. Price: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. See Appendix B.) To sum up his work in a few lines is impossible. Two central facts stand out: that the dental state (and general health) of all these peoples so long as they kept to their primitive foods was magnificent; and that their physical degeneration, when they deserted these diets for imported trade-borne foods, was of almost unbelievable rapidity. The book makes tragic reading, for in most cases the change over has been very recent and two generations exist side by side, the older presenting perfect teeth and facial formation, the younger with ruined teeth and miserable facial formation; as might be expected, other evils accompany these.
The diets examined, though very varied, agree absolutely with the indications given in the cases of the tribesmen of the Hunza valley, Eskimos (whom Dr. Price also examined) and the Tristan islanders; they were very largely drawn from the sea. Great efforts were made sometimes to obtain sea food, especially for the young mothers; great stress was laid on the shell fish; sea-weeds were eaten. Where diets were mixed, grains were consumed whole. Thus of the Polynesian populations of various islands of the Pacific, the author states: "in all of the groups living on native foods with liberal intake of the animal life of the sea, the health of the gums was generally excellent. When, however, the sea foods were quite limited in the dietary, heavy deposits formed (on the teeth) and often were associated with a marked destruction of the supporting tissues with gingival infection." In contrast may be cited the non-sea diet of the Loetschental valley people; here there were ample animal wastes in the soil, for almost every household had goats or cows or both, and "great care was used to carry back to the soil all of the enrichment". The result was a splendid standard of health, which sank rapidly with the introduction of white bread and other partially depleted foods in 1931.
One great lesson that emerges is that the food we eat should be fresh food, whole food, and drawn from a source which is itself whole, that is, which has not been impoverished, depleted or exhausted. In the case of sea foods, the source can never be depleted; that is why these foods are so safe as part dietary, a fact which many primitive peoples seem to have grasped. In the case of land foods, there is no such assurance; but if wholeness can be maintained, then abounding health follows. This wholeness of the land we call fertility.
We see where the agriculture of China falls into place. We have called that agriculture perfect; we may now look at its results in terms of human health. It has produced a race whose staying power outlasts every calamity. On his minute plot the Chinese peasant thrives; he is always cheerful, a point which has frequently been noted; his health is patent and vigorous. True, there are frightful epidemics and terrible diseases are known. These are almost always to be traced to the action of some climatic factor, either flood bringing famine, or else a permanent lack of good hygiene bringing the diseases associated with dirt; there is a bad record shown here. Yet all in all the population stands up even against this, so that it has been wittily said that only the Chinese peasant could survive the diseases of China.
Such being the factors in the situation, we begin to see why human society offers such a strangely variegated view. Each factor counts, but each is found present or absent to a very different extent among the communities of which we have knowledge. We can, however, broadly say that questions of health are principally questions of food: but food means agriculture and agriculture means the soil.
Are there in this field of human health any examples comparable to those we described when discussing animal health, namely, cases showing groups of men and women previously suffering from debility or disease now brought up to outstanding health as a consequence of consuming healthy food grown on fertile soil?. The World War has greatly interrupted what was being done in this direction, but some such examples are available. They are more in the nature of indications than of accumulated proof, but time will add to them; they agree so well in every particular with what we know about the other sections of the Wheel of Life that those of us who by now are convinced of the truth of what we have been stating will hardly ask for more.
The first example was recently brought to the notice of our own House of Lords in a much quoted debate initiated by the advocates of more healthy food for the people. It was stated that the opening up of the Copper Belt in Northern Rhodesia, in a district previously depopulated by sleeping sickness, malaria, and all the range of tropical diseases, had been made practicable soon after 1925 by systematic methods of feeding the workers with quality foods. The whole of the arrangements was "based on the health of the food". The apparently hopeless task of making possible a working life in an impossible climate was triumphantly accomplished; the workers were kept healthy because they received "food grown on rich humus soil with plenty of life in it". (Lord Geddes in the House of Lords, October 26, 1943.) Three other examples come from schools: St. Martin's School, Sidmouth, England; St. Columba's College, Rathfarnham, Eire; and Mount Albert Grammar School, Auckland, New Zealand. In all these cases there was a rapid and quite obvious improvement in child health following on the consumption of properly grown fruit and vegetables; of the school at Sidmouth it is stated that lads who came as weaklings left healthy and robust; they never looked back in point of health, and became fitted to play a good part in the world crusade of the war. Here the soil had been put into a superlative state of fertility, and, as might be expected, the crops were immune from insect pests and diseases. (Details of these and further cases in Howard: The Soil and Health -- Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, pp. 175-7.)
The most striking example is drawn from the Far East, from results obtained in the short space of two years. Dr. Scharff, chief health officer at Singapore, between 1940 and 1942 watched the health of the five hundred coolies employed by his department in various parts of the island improve out of all knowledge as the direct result of his campaign to induce them to grow and eat their own vegetables cultivated with compost. The effects were patent; "an oasis of good health" was established. "Debility and sickness," writes Dr. Scharff, "were swept away and my men were capable of, and gladly responded to, the heavier work demanded by the increasing stress of war. But for the onslaught of the Japanese which overwhelmed Malaya, I should have been able to present a statistical record of the benefit resulting from this widespread effort of vegetable culture on compost such as would astonish the scientific world" (text of letter from Dr. Scharff to Dr. Lionel Picton in Howard, op. cit., pp. 171-2). This case is of particular interest because the speaker is an exponent of the practice of composting human nightsoil. Thus the fine health of the Singapore coolies was made to rest on a very significant carrying out of the Law of Return.
We thus come back to our basic principles. We, a part of the natural round, must obey the laws of the round; we are bound to the turning of the Wheel of Life. Persistent refusal to conform to the most important of Nature's dictates is sure to bring disaster. Yet if we are bound to obedience, we can also claim all the privileges which Nature bestows upon her creatures; we, as well as plants and animals, can fall back on that immense system of reserves which is such an integral part of her working. Thus we enjoy great freedom; there is an extraordinary elasticity in Nature of which we can take advantage, and as long as we do not depart too widely from what she lays down, we survive in good health and good spirits.
We can do almost what we will provided we ensure the protein chain. If this is guarded, if the proper synthesis and the smooth transmission of the substance which holds life is secured by fertility in the soil, we may feel certain that the precious endowment of good health will be handed on to our crops, our animals and ourselves. But, if we neglect, or even worse, if we interfere with the chain, if we allow our soils to run down or whip them up mercilessly by improper means, then not only may we suspect, but we shall prove in our own persons, that a weakness has been set up at the source which Nature will take care to carry forward for our punishment to the end.
This cannot but happen if we persist in errors, of which there have already been too many. The modern pursuit of quantity of produce at all costs has been one. The pursuit is bound up with the profit motive, but it is also engendered by fear. It becomes a dire temptation, then a source of false pride. There is a curious fascination in the aim of heavier and heavier tonnages of wheat, more and more last half-pints of milk, batteries of hens, and eggs reckoned by the million gross; yet it is not quantity that we truly lack. Over-specialization, what is known as monocrop farming, pursued in a reckless way, has been another mistake, bringing an unhappy divorce between the plant and the animal in defiance of one of the first laws of Nature. But there has also been a general neglect and carelessness about the soil, a total indifference to contouring, an excessive destruction of the natural tree canopy, insufficient attention to aeration, and many other follies. These evils have been insidious; they have seldom been deliberate; they have been forced on the individual cultivator, who, indeed, has frequently had high authority for what he did.
Not the highest of all: not Nature's authority. She has spoken with a very different voice. She does not promise this or that, the heavier sack or the fuller pail; these will come, but they have to be earned, always by obedience. Her verdicts are two only: health and disease. Those fungi, those viruses, those plagues and pestilences that infect our crops and kill our animals, that debility, those ailments that spoil our lives, what are they but her appointed censors, her sharp weapons to warn us that the Wheel of Life is not to be deflected, but must be watched, understood and followed?
That perfect health, uninterrupted from first to last, will ever be the portion of all living organisms is not, indeed, possible; disease, we must repeat for the last time, has a place in the revolving of the great Wheel. But the part it has to play is meant to be restricted; bow often have we declared that there should be enormously more health than disease in this world? Life was given us as a function to fulfill, not as a state to be suffered.
The green carpet is our greatest natural inheritance, and it is our true destiny to understand it, use it, and enjoy it.
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