A dead sperm whale recently washed up on Spain’s south coast after swallowing 17 kilograms of plastic waste dumped into the sea by farmers tending greenhouses that produce tomatoes and other vegetables for British supermarkets.
In the whale’s stomach were two dozen pieces of transparent plastic, some plastic bags, nine metres of rope, two stretches of hose pipe, two small flower pots and a plastic spray canister.
The 40,000 hectares of Spanish greenhouses produce more than 45,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually. Much is treated in special waste centres, but local rivers fill with plastic garbage and much of it gets into the sea.
In 2011, Taiwanese authorities pulled roughly 900 products, including beverages, syrups, jams, tablets, pastries, and powdered yogurt and probiotics containing a plasticizer with the toxic phthalate Di-Ethyl Hexyl Phthalate used as a substitute for palm oil.
Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and are linked to asthma and wheezing especially, in the young. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned the public about the possibility of DEHP in certain foods and beverages imported from Taiwan.
And purchasing local and organic food does not necessarily provide safety from phthalate contamination. A recent study at the University of Washington compared test results between families on a five-day diet from a catering company that avoids plastics and uses fresh and, when possible, local and organic ingredients and another group of families merely given handouts with tips to reduce phthalate and Bisphenol A exposures.
The handout-receiving group indeed showed no change, as expected, but for the catered local and organic diet group, BPA levels doubled and levels of the highly toxic phthalate DEHP jumped a shocking 2,377 per cent.
There is no definitive conclusion, but it seems possible that milk was exposed before entering the glass bottles required by the catering company, perhaps from plastic tubing used with milking machines. Another culprit looks like spices sourced from long distances.
Our reckless use of plastics that have only been available in the last couple of generations is endangering wildlife species and now our foods.
My mother was not a bossy women, but her instinctive recoil from the over-processed foods in cans – in fact, her shame at the thought of using such stuff – had its effect on me, even though I was raised in a large city with a wide range of shopping choices.
This may be why I have always had an aversion to food prepared anonymously, unless at a reliable restaurant.
The Second World War, as well as promoting national food sustainability, introduced many ersatz foodstuffs to our diet, and the technology was turned to commercial uses in peacetime.
But wartime conditions no longer prevail, and we deserve better standards than we are receiving from both the food industry and our national ‘inspection’ agency.
Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at: marjorie