What you see in this amazing video all takes place inside of one drop of water: for the first time, plankton have been filmed eating plastic. This is part of the story of how people end up eating plastic too. Microscopic plankton eat even smaller fluorescent particles of plastic that fill up their digestive systems. Sometimes the particles stay in their system for days, making survival and reproduction difficult for them. When they get eaten by bigger sea life, the plastic gets lodged in those creature’s intestines and then they get eaten too. Eventually, people eat sea life that contains plastic, so we end up eating it too.
Where does all that plastic come from?
Cosmetic and healthcare products that have a scrubbing quality like exfoliating soaps and toothpaste use plastic microbeads that wash into drains and out to large bodies of water. Natural products could be used, but they mostly aren’t.
Then, there’s the island of plastic debris floating in our oceans – tons of the stuff – that breaks into tinier and tinier particles as pieces are hit by the sun and jostle against each other, and then against rocks and sand as they move around the ocean waters. Plastic breaks into tiny pieces but doesn’t disappear, and now we know that plankton eat it.
Wary consumers who aren’t interested in waiting for FDA to ramp up its testing of Chinese food imports can take their own measures to minimize the possibility of contamination. Local, as in American-grown produce, will trump labels such as “organic,” if the food in question was grown in a potentially polluted place.
In fact, if it’s grown in a polluted place, organic produce could contain more heavy metals than conventionally grown food. Organic agriculture practices include the use of manure, which could add heavy metals to the soil if the cattle were eating contaminated feed, such as hay grown in a contaminated field, according to Michael Schmitt, a soil scientist at the University of Minnesota. “Once you put metals in a field,” he said, “they don’t go away.”
Thus, organic food from a polluted area of China could carry significantly more heavy metals than nonorganic food from the U.S. This puts a new spin on the idea of eating locally. In this case it could mean from anywhere in this vast continent—Canada and Mexico don’t seem to have heavy metal problems. But in a way, the reasons are similar to why many people prefer buying from the local farm stand: you have more information about how something is grown.
Not all food is required by law to be labeled with a country of origin. Foods purchased abroad and processed in the USA, for example, are exempt, as are foods containing multiple ingredients. The safest way to confirm a food item didn’t come from China is to look for labels that announce where it is from. If no information is given, avoid it.
Best practices are: eat local; avoid foods not labelled with country of origin and eat only foods minimally processed. And, be wary of nutrition supplements because they concentrate ingredients, including poisonous ones.