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Canola--A Superb Selenium Slurper

By Marcia Wood
June 23, 2000

Canola, perhaps best known as the source of a healthful vegetable oil, may soon play a new role in boosting the health of our environment. Studies by Agricultural Research Service scientists have shown that this yellow-flowered member of the mustard family can suck selenium from soil and water that are contaminated with an overload of this mineral.

Then, hay made from the selenium-enriched canola might be fed to livestock raised in selenium-deficient regions of the United States, according to results of preliminary ARS tests with sheep and cattle. Further tests may determine whether this approach may reduce the need for selenium supplements or injections now used to ensure that these animals get enough of this essential nutrient. Selenium deficiency is a major problem for livestock or wildlife in at least 37 states and costs beef, dairy, sheep and horse producers an estimated $545 million in losses every year.

Gary S. Bañuelos with ARS at Fresno, Calif., and ARS co-researcher Henry F. Mayland at Kimberly, Idaho, collaborated in the canola experiment. Their study was likely the first to use--as an animal feed or supplement--canola that had been grown specifically for the task of pulling naturally occurring selenium from the soil.

The scientists first measured the amount of selenium in the canola to make sure it didn't exceed safe levels, then monitored the quantity of the mineral in the animals' blood, milk and other samples. All of the animals remained healthy throughout the investigation. An article in the June issue of the agency's Agricultural Research magazine tells more.

ARS is the USDA's chief research agency.

Scientific contact: Gary S. Bañuelos, ARS Water Management Research Unit, Fresno, Calif., phone (559) 453-3115, fax (559) 453-3122,