Foundation research

Plastics detected in dairy and beef products

Small plastic particles called microplastics have been detected in dairy and meat products and in animals themselves.

To research​ conducted by the Free University of Amsterdam and commissioned by the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF), analyzed cow-related samples – milk, meat, feed and blood – collected from six farms in the Netherlands, including organic farms.

Plastics were found in all blood samples, all non-fresh food samples, 18 of 25 milk samples and seven of eight beef samples. There was no difference between samples from animals raised on organic farms and regular farms.

While the researchers concluded that ‘hundreds’ of samples would be needed for a more formal exposure assessment, the pilot study was successful in proving that traces of plastic were detectable in animals, their food and products. dairy and cattle, and assumed that humans were also exposed to plastic through the consumption of meat and milk.

“A lot of research is being done on the possible health effects of microplastics,”said a PSF spokesperson. “Very small particles can penetrate deep into the body and evidence is mounting that micro- and nanoplastics can actually affect the functioning of the brain, lungs, liver and spleen, stomach and intestines, and of the immune system.

“Factors that influence toxicity include dosage, duration of exposure (whether acute or chronic), route of exposure, species, age, sex and environment. We don’t we just don’t yet know at what dose microplastic particles become toxic.”

Milk samples: on the farm and on the shelf

The study tested tank milk, hand drawn milk and packaged supermarket milk, with eighteen of the 25 milk samples (72%) containing plastics. However, in the majority of them, no plastic particles were detected above the LOQ.

From the supermarket milk samples, the researchers tested four UHT milk samples, including a lactose-free variant; fresh skimmed milk (2), as well as semi-skimmed (9) and whole (1) milk. There were also five hand and tank milk samples each.


According to the researchers, a likely explanation for why the plastics end up in the cows themselves is their diet. They tested both food pellets and fresh food, finding plastics in all non-fresh food.

“We advise farmers to call their feed supplier and ask how they can guarantee their feed is plastic-free,”advised the PSF spokesperson. “Also, they could contact their local food safety authorities. Farmers have the right to know exactly what they are feeding their animals.

In the Netherlands, farmers are required to remove all plastic packaging from feed before offering it to animals. But the researchers warned that ‘despite the warning, the plastic wrapping of feed bales is still not removed for various reasons, such as keeping the fodder moist or keeping the air out’ .

The PSF spokesperson explained further. “The Dutch Food Safety Authority is responsible for controlling the quality of animal feed. It tolerates a limit of 0.15% by weight of microplastics in food. The EU regulation, however, maintains a zero tolerance policy. In our opinion, the only correct standard is the European one which prohibits plastic in animal feed.

“Whether or not eating meat or drinking milk is everyone’s choice, PSF has no opinion on that. But as a consumer, you have the right to food that does not harm your health. That’s why we think it’s important to make your voice heard. Here in the Netherlands, we call on the government to ensure that the Dutch food chain is plastic-free. We have published a petition on our website.

“We can’t find anything”

FEFAC, the European Federation of Animal Feed Manufacturers, was asked to comment but did not provide any. SecureFeed, the organization that monitors animal feed products in the Netherlands, issued the following statement: “The Plastic Soup Foundation’s suggestion that packaging materials should be treated in animal feed as an existing practice is not apparent from SecureFeed’s monitoring and audit data.”

“The animal feed sector uses residues and by-products from the food industry. Think of broken cookies and bread that isn’t sold in the supermarket. This is suitable as a raw material for animal feed and avoids food waste. For the treatment of return and residual flows, there are unpacking protocols for the removal of packaging materials by specialized companies and checks are carried out for the absence of packaging materials in the raw materials produced.

“In addition to the aforementioned measures, SecureFeed monitors the raw materials produced from return and residual feeds from the food industry. Among other things, attention is paid to the presence of residues of packaging materials (such as paper, cardboard, plastic or aluminum). (…) In the vast majority of analyses, nothing is found. In a very limited number of cases, values ​​are found that are still well below the detection limit… There are also regular audits at companies that process old foodstuffs.

The body concluded: “Microplastics, as the researchers suggest, are everywhere in our environment and hardly seem to be banned from the food chain. Knowing more about this will help keep these substances away, but action may need to be taken earlier in the chain. SecureFeed contacts researchers for more information about their research. »