If you have ever heard the saying “you are what you eat” then you probably remember your mother scolding at you as a child for eating too many cookies because “if you eat too many, you’ll turn in to one!”
But I will leave that topic for another time. What I would like to address is the need for transparency in where our food gets its nourishment from.
In other words: if you are what you eat, than you are also what you eat eats.
While I am not a big red meat eater, my palate includes fish and other seafood on a regular basis.
Food traceability is an important factor in determining where I source my food from. And although I already know the Earth’s waters are littered with various garbage, I will admit I was surprised to learn just how much.
A recent study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE estimates that nearly 270,000 tons of plastic is floating around in the world’s oceans. That’s an estimated 5.25 trillion particles of plastic waste. Just let that sink in — literally and figuratively.
Plastic pollution is no joke, as it is globally distributed across the oceans due to its properties of buoyancy and durability. Some researchers even claim that the synthetic polymers in the ocean should be regarded as hazardous waste.
The paper is the latest research in which scientists are trying to better understand just how much of this synthetic material is not only affecting our oceans, but also the entire marine ecosystem.
To compile the data, researchers dragged a “fine mesh net” across the sea surface to gather the small pieces. Observers on boats counted the larger items, and they used computer models to estimate parts of the ocean not surveyed.
This is the first study that has compared all sizes of floating plastic in the oceans; from the largest items, or macroplastics, to the tiniest microplastics. And according to the results, plastics of all sizes were found in every ocean region in the world.
While the study only measured plastic floating on the surface (and not on the ocean floor), it was estimated that approximately 75 percent of the oceans’ plastic waste are of bits greater than eight inches.
Studying the amount of plastic that has ended up in our oceans will help scientists understand how the dangerous materials will affect our food chain.
As someone who eats tuna on almost a daily basis, I can’t say I am too comforted by these findings. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that a fish (or other sea creature) will eat just about anything it sees floating around.
So, for example, it’s very likely that the tuna on your plate may have eaten another fish that had ingested plastic, and perhaps the fish that that fish ate also had eaten a piece of plastic.
While the dangers to humans are still unknown, it's not an assuring feeling knowing this information. These plastics could very well, and probably do, have toxic chemicals in them!
A recent story in the Associated Press about this issue quoted Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association saying that we have little knowledge of the chain of events that could lead to being poisoned by plastics.
“It’s a plausible scenario that plastic ingested at lower levels of the food web could have consequences at higher levels of the food chain,” Law said.
And in my book, “little knowledge” means everyone should be taking precautionary measures in their food choices. Do your research, know where your food is being sourced from, and — if it comes down to it — you may even consider cutting back or completely eliminating seafood for a while.
Am I promoting vegetarianism? Of course not, I love seafood as much as the next person, but if it means putting our health in danger, I think it is worth taking a break from. Don’t you?