'Medical Testament'

The Nature of Health

by Keith Addison, Journey to Forever

THE "Medical Testament" published by the 31 doctors of the Cheshire Panel Committee in England on March 22 1939 was a milestone in the development of the infant organic farming movement.

A critique of the 25-year-old British National Health Insurance Act, titled "The Prevention and Cure of Sickness", it acknowledged great advances in the realm of cures, but rather the opposite when it came to prevention -- and it explained why this was so.

Published in full at the time in the British Medical Journal, the "Testament" brought the major issues of organics to the forefront of public debate: that true health, as opposed to the mere absence of disease (the focus of most of the medical profession then and now), is a commodity whose manufacture begins in a healthy soil. A healthy soil grows healthy crops, which produce healthy livestock, and the final product is healthy people. And what it depends on is the return of the waste products to the soil to begin life anew in the form of humus.

Substituting chemical "fertilizers" for the humus knocks half the spokes out of the wheel, leading to disease throughout the system: pests, weeds, sickly crops, sickly livestock, and sickly humans. It's a living system, not just quantities of dead minerals in mechanical motion. Much of the food processing of the industrialized world produces a denatured product that simply increases the damage.

The "Testament" brought all the issues into focus, both the problems and their solutions. At the Institute of Plant Industry, Indore, India, Albert Howard had put the art of composting on a scientific basis and used it to raise healthy, resistant, bumper crops that needed none of the "protection" of poison sprays, along with cattle that could rub noses with sick animals and remain healthy.

At the same time Robert McCarrison was investigating the legendary Hunza tribe of the north of India, mountain people who lived to a ripe and vigorous old age and never got sick. He discovered why, and proved it in a series of experiments at the Nutrition Research Laboratories at Coonoor in India: it was the food they ate -- and, just as important, not just what food, but how it was grown. Unless it was grown in fertile soil, it could not be health-giving food. Most doctors study disease; McCarrison had the rare opportunity to study health instead, and put the fledgling science of nutrition on a whole new footing.

Both Howard and McCarrison won knighthoods for their work. By 1939 both had retired to England, where Howard founded the organic farming movement, and the evidence was gathering on farms and in gardens throughout the land, and throughout the world. McCarrison meanwhile set about mending the poor-cousin status of nutrition in the medical world.

Howard and McCarrison both gave speeches in support of the "Testament" when it was presented at a public meeting in March 1939.

The "Medical Testament" is a classic document -- often referred to and reprinted in books and papers written at the time and subsequently, but now long out of print.

Strangely, what seems to have been sadly neglected even at the time were the extensive references published with the "Testament". Three times as long as the "Testament" itself, this is far more than just a set of attributions and publication details: it contains a host of valuable additional material, much of it not found anywhere else, as well as a full bibliography of the work of Sir Robert McCarrison.

We managed to track down a copy of the original pamphlet and the references at the Cheshire Library and obtained photocopies. (The poor-quality photocopy of the References could not be scanned -- many thanks to Steve Solomon of the Soil and Health Library for re-typing it.) We also tracked down some of the associated documents and publications, all available here in full-text, along with some related documents and some that aren't directly related but relevant nonetheless. Included are the following:

Medical Testament

The References contain extensive extra material. It is recommended that readers keep both pages open for easy reference.

McCarrison bibliography (References)

Speeches by Sir Robert McCarrison and Sir Albert Howard

Correspondence in the British Medical Journal
Publication of the "Testament" in the BMJ drew some heated debate among readers in subsequent issues. These are some of the letters.

Food and Health by Lionel Picton
Picton was the secretary of the Cheshire Panel and one of the main movers behind publication of the "Testament". This essay was written a few years later.

Soil Fertility and Health by Sir Albert Howard
A short and elegant exposition of the core concern of the "Testament".

Soil Fertility: The Farm's Capital by Sir Bernard Greenwell
Open-Air Dairying by A.J. Hosier
Farming for Profit with Organic Manures by Friend Sykes
Three accounts of derelict and abused land restored to peak fertility and productivity by pioneers of organic farming. The first two are referred to in the "Testament" papers. The last sentence in Greenwell's address became the byword of the organic movement: "A fertile soil means healthy crops, healthy animals and, last but not least, healthy human beings."

Nutrition in Health and Disease by Sir Robert McCarrison
Studies in Deficiency Disease (Introduction) by Sir Robert McCarrison
Diseases of Faulty Nutrition by Sir Robert McCarrison
Nutrition and National Health by Sir Robert McCarrison
Landmarks in McCarrison's pioneering work in nutrition.

Ill Fares the Land by Dr. Walter Yellowlees
Dr Yellowlees argues passionately for a return to sanity from the lunacy of fragmentation in agriculture, food manufacture and medical treatment of the ills these fragmentations produce, pleading for a return to the wholeness which leads to true health in soil, plant, animal and man.


Nutrition and Health, Sir Robert McCarrison -- McCarrison's Cantor Lectures, to the Royal Society of Arts in 1936, Faber and Faber, London, 1953. A full outline of McCarrison's groundbreaking work in India with national diets and how closely they were reflected in patterns of health and disease. With photographs. Full text online at the Small Farms Library.

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, 1939; 1945 Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation. -- Weston Price was truly "the Charles Darwin of nutrition". He discovered what health is made of, and proved it beyond any doubt. In the early 1930s Price travelled more than 100,000 miles to study the diets and health of isolated primitive peoples all over the world, at a time when such communities still existed -- people "who were living in accordance with the tradition of their race and as little affected as might be possible by the influence of the white man". What he found makes fascinating reading, turning many of our modern ideas on their heads -- the Hunza were not the only healthy people in the world, far from it. Then Price compared these communities to other, less isolated groups of the same peoples, exposed to the "trade foods" produced by industrial society (processed foods grown by synthetic farming methods), in the shape of the "white man's store". He found it takes only one generation of eating industrialized food to destroy health and immunity. But he leaves us with the promise of regeneration -- thwarted health can be recaptured. Full text online at the Small Farms Library. See Journey to Forever's review of this extraordinary book. See the Weston A. Price Foundation for more information:

The Saccharine Disease: Conditions caused by the Taking of Refined Carbohydrates, such as Sugar and White Flour by T. L. Cleave, John Wright, 1974. Surgeon Captain T.L. Cleave, Director of Medical Research at the Royal Naval Medical School, whittled down the root cause of dozens of the ills of industrial societies to one simple factor, also noted by McCarrison: their dependence on refined carbohydrates -- the "master-disease". Full text online (scanned by Steve Solomon of the Soil and Health Library, book provided by Journey to Forever).

THESE three men, McCarrison, Price and Cleave, long ago provided the complete answer to the question "What is health?" -- a question that still troubles the World Health Organization today, following the failure to achieve its multi-billion-dollar goal of the 20th Century: "Health for All by the Year 2000". McCarrison, Price and Cleave showed that health very simply depends on healthy food, which can only be grown in fertile soil, and Albert Howard and the other organic farming pioners provided the full solution to that part of the problem.

Why has their work been ignored and largely forgotten -- though never discredited? The sad answer is that it was, and is, incompatible with the immensely powerful worldwide interests dependent on the production of industrialized food, whose shadow touches and sways (warps) everything and everyone: governments, academia, the media, the professions, and you, and us. So we're left instead with the tragi-comic comment (true) of a modern-day medical professional: "Of course we're healthier today than people were a hundred years ago," he said with indignant scorn: "We've got so many more hospitals now." Verily so, and we need them. Unlike the Hunza.

The Wheel of Health: A Study of a Very Healthy People" by G.T. Wrench, Daniel, 1938, reprinted 1960, 1990
Dr. Wrench's classic exploration of the Hunza of northern India. By approaching the problem of disease from the unusual angle of a study of a perfectly healthy people, their diet and their way of life, Wrench shows that health depends on environmental wholeness, of which a whole diet is the vital factor -- not only the right sorts of foods, but their right cultivation as well. Summarises the work of two other renowned health pioneers, Robert McCarrison and Albert Howard. This highly intelligent book is a delight to read. Full text online at the Small Farms Library.

See also Discussion for further comments from Dr Wrench: "I feel positive that the question, which I asked myself as a student, 'What is health?' can be answered now. Health means whole. There is no separate human health, no separate animal health, no separate vegetable health, no separate soil health. There is one whole, and it starts with the soil."

The Healthy Hunza" by J.I. Rodale, Rodale Press, 1949
Rodale, founder of Rodale Press and Organic Gardening magazine, researched virtually all previously published data on the Hunza to write this book, and also had a lengthy correspondence with the Mir, the hereditary Hunza leader. Also covers the work of McCarrison and Howard. Full text online at the Soil and Health Library:

"An Agricultural Testament" by Sir Albert Howard, Oxford University Press, 1940.
This is the book that started the organic farming and gardening revolution, the result of Howard's 25 years of research at Indore in India. The essence of organics is brilliantly encapsulated in the Introduction, which begins: "The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the first condition of any permanent system of agriculture." Read on! Full explanation of the Indore composting process and its application. Excellent on the relationship between soil, food and health. Full text online at the Journey to Forever Small Farms Library.

Introduction to "An Agricultural Testament" -- full text online at Journey to Forever.

Albert Howard -- Journey to Forever's review of Howard's work, with a short bibliography (major books and papers)

The Nature of Health (Introduction and Table of Contents)
Medical Testament
McCarrison bibliography (References)
Speeches by Sir Robert McCarrison and Sir Albert Howard
Correspondence in the British Medical Journal
Food and Health -- Lionel Picton
Soil Fertility and Health -- Sir Albert Howard
Soil Fertility: The Farm's Capital -- Sir Bernard Greenwell
Open-Air Dairying -- A.J. Hosier
Farming for Profit with Organic Manures -- Friend Sykes
Nutrition and Health -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Nutrition in Health and Disease -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Studies in Deficiency Disease (Introduction) -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Diseases of Faulty Nutrition -- Sir Robert McCarrison
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration -- Weston A. Price
The Saccharine Disease -- T. L. Cleave
An Agricultural Testament -- Sir Albert Howard
Ill Fares the Land -- Dr. Walter Yellowlees
Food & Health in the Scottish Highlands: Four Lectures from a Rural Practice -- Dr Walter Yellowlees

Back to the Small Farms Library Index

Community development | Rural development
City farms | Organic gardening | Composting | Small farms | Biofuel | Solar box cookers
Trees, soil and water | Seeds of the world | Appropriate technology | Project vehicles

Home | What people are saying about us | About Handmade Projects 
Projects | Internet | Schools projects | Sitemap | Site Search | Donations | Contact us