The pilot study finding the microplastics should 'act as an impetus to further explore the full scope of exposure', said a scientist.
Microplastic contamination has been found in some 80 per cent of Dutch meat and milk samples tested by scientists.
Researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA) in the Netherlands undertook a pilot study, commissioned by the Plastic Soup Foundation, to find out more about the presence of microplastics in factory farmed animals.
The study, titled Plastic Particles in Livestock Feed, Blood, Milk, and Meat, tested eight samples each of cows and pigs’ meat, 25 milk products, and 12 blood samples from cows and pigs, finding plastic particles in more than three quarters of the samples.
Researchers looked for a range of different plastic polymers, but did not measure the concentrations of additives that may be present in the plastic.
Of the milk samples, 18 of the 25 were found to contain at least one type of plastic, while all of the cows’ and pigs’ blood samples were contaminated.
Five of the eight pig’s meat samples, and seven of the eight farmed beef cows‘ meat samples were found to contain at least one type of plastic.
In addition, they tested animal feed pellets, finding microplastics in every sample tested, leading to speculation that the feed may be one of the ‘possible exposure routes through which plastic particles reach the bodies of animals’.
Fresh food samples that were tested did not contain measurable amounts of microplastics.
The ingestion of water and respiration of air are other possible routes, but they were not researched in this study.
Contamination of the food chain
Director of Plastic Soup Foundation Maria Westerbos said: “This study raises concerns about the contamination of our food chain with microplastics.
“It is also clear that farmers are not responsible for this.
“It seems that – at least part of the – leftover batches from the food industry, including supermarkets, are processed into animal feed with packaging and all.”
The Plastic Soup Foundation noted that the small-scale of its study makes it a ‘starting point, not a concluding point’, however it noted that ‘the concentrations encountered in this small set of samples do raise big questions on just how widespread this issue is’.
It said that a much larger number of samples should be measured in follow up studies to find out more about the potential toxicological risks of these findings.
The Plastic Soup Foundation has launched a petition calling on the government to stop allowing plastic in animal feed.
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