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New study uncovers concerning side effect of common farming practice: 'Will be a great challenge'

The presence of these contaminants in soil and crops raises red flags about the safety of our food supply.

The presence of these contaminants in soil and crops raises red flags about the safety of our food supply.

Photo Credit: iStock

A common farming practice could be harming the quality of the food on your plate.

A new study conducted in the Key Laboratory of Plant Nutrition and Agri-environment in Northwest China found a link between the use of plastic films in farming and the build-up of phthalates, a potentially toxic chemical, in both soil and wheat.

What's happening?

The study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, revealed that the breakdown of plastic films used by farmers leaves behind residue that increases the concentration of phthalates in multiple parts of the wheat plant, including the roots and grains. 

High levels of these chemicals were found in both seedlings and mature wheat, according to ehn.org.

But the impact doesn't stop there. The plastic film residue also significantly affected the health of bacterial communities in the soil, which could have consequences for soil quality.

Why are phthalates concerning?

Phthalates are known to affect the endocrine system and have been connected with serious health conditions, including cancer. Their presence in soil and crops raises red flags about the safety of our food supply.

Farmers in dry regions frequently use plastic films to maintain soil moisture and increase crop yields. In China alone, farmers used a staggering 136,000 tons of plastic film in 2020.

The problem arises when these films break down slowly and aren't properly removed, leading to a substantial accumulation of plastic debris in the soil.

"The future food security conflict between [phthalate] pollution caused by plastic films residues and water scarcity in arid regions will be a great challenge," the publication read.

What's being done about phthalates?

While the study highlights a potential conflict between the use of plastic films to combat water scarcity and the resulting phthalate pollution, we can take steps to address this issue.

Supporting sustainable farming practices that significantly limit the use of plastic and prioritize soil health is one way to make a difference. As consumers, we can also advocate for stricter regulations on the use and disposal of agricultural plastics.

By working together and making informed choices, we can protect the quality of our food supply and create a healthier future for ourselves and the planet.

The more we understand the hidden impacts of our agricultural practices, the better equipped we are to find solutions that nourish both people and the earth. Every small step we take, from supporting local farmers to advocating for change, can help build a more sustainable and resilient food system for all.

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