You may have recently heard about plastics getting into our food supply. It may be the first time you have heard about this. Like you, we are very concerned about plastic pollution and welcome higher awareness. However, research suggests that we are exposed to greater amounts of microplastics from our clothes and our homes during every meal of seafood than from the seafood itself![i]
Therefore, we believe that the 3% of seafood (fishmeal) eaten by Søagergård’s naturally raised hens is unlikely to contribute meaningfully to the estimated credit card’s worth of plastic that is consumed by each of us every week[ii].
In this article, we want to give you hope and make you feel directly empowered about your environment, by sharing what we have done over the years to substantially reduce our intake of PFAS, phthalates, microplastics as well as endocrine disruptors at our farm and in our home.
We set up our small farm a few kilometres outside Copenhagen in 2020, to make a healthy alternative to mass agriculture. We make every decision to our maxims: “local, regenerative, animal welfare”.
We have been aware of the plastic issue for over a decade and we want to share with you how we work hard to give you nutritious produce while reducing your plastic credit card “bill”.
This article covers some of the questions you may have regarding plastics:
Are Søagergård’s eggs still healthy to eat?
What have we done at Søagergård to reduce risk of plastic in food?
Where can you make a significant reduction of plastic that you ingest in your life?
Why does feed contain fishmeal?
What are the alternatives to fishmeal and why don’t we at Søagergård feed soy?
We’d love for you to read our article in its entirety, because no issue is as simple as made out and it is tricky to condense 10 years of our research into a bitesize chunk. We would also love your feedback on our approach.
Yes. Good quality eggs from pastured hens:
Have the perfect nutrient profile, with minerals and proteins in the perfect ratios
Contain high Omega 3s (in part thanks to the fishmeal) and are linked to reduced heart disease
Contain nutrients that are deficient in our diets
Do not raise LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol[iii]
As a growing family of two and an infant, we eat 15-20 of our eggs a day, every day – for the past three years. We can categorically say that we have not experienced health issues despite eating 10 to 30 times more eggs than on average.
From PFAS health issues documented so far[iv], we have had:
No issues with our immune systems (we have had one cold in the last three years)
No issues with fertility
No issues with cholesterol
No issues with hormones
No issues with growth, learning or behaviour in our infant
We believe that any potential risks are offset by the perfect nutrient profile of pastured eggs from our naturally raised hens. We have also phased out about half of the plastics impacting health in our home so far (keep reading where you can make meaningful healthy improvements).
To underline, we take the plastics issue very seriously. For example:
We could not complete our bathroom renovation for six months, until we found a plumber willing to work with copper water pipes instead of the now-common plastic.
We spent over double to buy a stainless steel and rubber milking machine for our 100% grass-fed Jersey milk cows. This means there is minimal plastic in contact with the raw milk we sell
As our hens are pastured on our fields most of the year, they have access to grass, bugs and plants (in winter, hay, silage and sprouted seeds, as well as brassicas from our neighbour organic market garden, Drys).
They are also moved regularly, so they have a continuous supply of supplemental nutrition (part of our regenerative approach for higher animal welfare and environmental regeneration). This means that up to 30% of our pastured hens’ food comes from other sources than the feed, reducing the quantity of fishmeal in their diet to about 3%.
From the start of our farm in 2020, we have opted for significantly more expensive alternatives to plastic, from which there is risk of leaching (see next section about plastic leaching). This has included steel water containers and feed troughs for the animals.
Where alternatives do not exist, we have opted for plastics that have a long life when properly treated. Such as burying high-density polyethylene pipes for water supply, so they are not degraded by heat and sunlight.
These initiatives increased our costs but we knew it was the right thing to do, even if not many people were aware of the plastic issue at the time.
While eggs are the latest food in the spotlight, research has shown that there is no getting away from plastic pollution in the food supply, as every food that is studied appears to be tainted[v].
However, you can make straightforward concrete steps to reduce your reliance on “plastic (not so) fantastic” today:
YOUR CLOTHES AND YOUR FURNISHINGS
There appears to be much greater impact on us from microplastics in our homes than from seafood[vi]. Millions of tiny plastic particles coat the average home and are ingested in every day and are even found in lung tissue and our blood[vii], primarily due to our clothes and upholstery choices[viii].
Buy and wear non-synthetic clothes, wherever possible. Wear natural fibres, preferably organic (see Global Organic Standard – try one GOTS certified garment that you wear next to your skin and we are confident you will notice the difference). Also look at ethically-sourced leather and natural rubber
Remove synthetic furnishings, e.g. carpets, curtains, etc. from the home
YOUR COOKING UTENSILS AND FOOD HABITS
Chemicals found in plastics leach into our food and play havoc with our hormones, and have been linked to cancers[ix]. Plastics leach into foods, especially when heated and when storing corrosive foods, such as tomato sauce or acidic fizzy drinks. “BPA-free” plastic is no reassurance[x] and could be worse than BPA[xi].
Heat and store food in stainless steel, glass, heavy-metal-free ceramic. Non-stick is convenient but non-stick coatings are usually made from PTFE, a major PFAS[xii]. Find inspiration from the large amounts of information online, like in the link for this endnote[xiii]
Buy foods stored in glass (and store them upright) and avoid canned foods. Cans[xiv] and metal bottle caps[xv] are usually coated in plastic
Avoid plastic for drinks[xvi] and be wary of plastics that are marketed as recycled[xvii]
If you eat take-aways (including coffee in paper cups usually lined in plastic), try and ask if you can bring your own (non-plastic) containers, and never reuse the containers
YOUR MONEY IS YOUR VOTE
Less than 5% of plastic is recycled globally[xviii][xix]. Reduce the contribution of plastic waste reaching our environment and food:
Opt for products that contain little or no plastic, where possible
Shop locally with food producers that don’t rely as much on plastic packaging as supermarkets
Make buying decisions that make plastics last longer. When making purchases, consider higher quality items made locally, rather than cheap throw-away
Research the pervasiveness of plastics in our environment, from the paint on our walls to the cosmetics we use[xx]
These are just some ideas that we have implemented at our home. It may appear daunting to start, when you look at all the plastic in the home, but work steadily and as budget allows, to create a healthier home.
We know that alternatives to plastics may not be as convenient or cheap, but as we hope that we can set examples for our friends and families by making a conscious decisionto start moving away from plastic.
Hens are omnivores and require a diet that meets their basic animal needs, which should include animal-derived protein (which gives an optimal amino acids profile[xxi]). The EU banned blood meal (a far superior and less environmentally destructive protein, we believe), due to Britain’s “mad cow disease” scare a few decades ago, leaving no alternative but fishmeal as an animal protein source. It seems that European bureaucracy has hemmed itself in again, at the expense of animal welfare and the consumer.
Danish organic egg producers concluded over two decades ago[xxii], that if fishmeal was removed from hens’ diets, hen welfare would greatly suffer, leading to worse health and higher likelihood for cannibalism.
Therefore, we are very concerned about the organic association’s hasty decision stop use of fishmeal without a suitable alternative. Especially as the source of the PFAS could be from something else entirely[xxiii].
Thus, we think the decision is forcing animals fed organic feed to have much worse lives.
We are reliant on organic feed, as it is currently the best option that we have access to in Denmark. We are not organically certified and have no desire to be associated with the organic association for many reasons. This latest spur-of-the-moment decision by the association has left all their members frantically scrambling to find inferior alternatives.
The alternative right now appears to either be soy protein or synthetic amino acids, used in conventional hen feed, but presently not permitted in organic feed. For us, neither are appropriate for raising healthy, natural hens.
Soy is already used extensively in animal feeds because it is cheap and reportedly easily digested. However, high soy protein diets have been linked to many emerging health issues, including disruption of hormones and cancer[xxiv] – therefore people eating eggs from hens fed soy could have an increased risk.
Processed plants also have a high Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. Western diet is very high in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3[xxv]. Oily fish (in fishmeal) has excellent Omega 3 content that is much more absorbable than Omega 3s from grains[xxvi], which translates into the nutrition of your eggs[xxvii].
Soy farming’s impact on the environment has also been documented, including deforestation and pollution in processing[xxviii].
For these reasons, we have worked hard to have soy-free feed for our hens (and pigs - which usually also have a high soy diet as standard in the industry).
The animal industry is well aware of the microplastics issue and has been researching filtering microplastics for a number of years[xxix].
We would love a credible alternative to fishmeal, however, we are not aware of one right now that will meet the animal welfare needs of the hens and us as consumers. Our feed supplier’s new composition replaces fishmeal with more rapeseed as a stopgap measure. This proposed feed does not provide the animals with good nutrition. We will continue working hard to find alternatives and the right solution for our customers and our hens.
We have worked (and continue to work) in reducing plastic contamination in our feed, while taking care of our animals’ welfare - well before the current awareness of plastic.
Humanity’s colossal plastics problem for our health and environment is not going away if fishmeal is removed from feed or if eggs are eaten less.
If we take personal responsibility now and where it matters, then there is hope for our health, environment and animals in the future.
We hope that you will continue with us on our journey of making local, environmentally regenerative food that honours our animal partners and brings you nutrient-dense eggs from naturally raised hens.
All the best,
Marianne, Andy and Leo (and our flock of 350 hens)
If you would like to know more or share your feedback, please email us at marianne@søagergård.dk
[i] Low levels of microplastics (MP) in wild mussels indicate that MP ingestion by humans is minimal compared to exposure via household fibres fallout during a meal https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0269749117344445?via%3Dihub
[ii] Plastic ingestion by people could be equating to a credit card a week; https://www.newcastle.edu.au/newsroom/featured/plastic-ingestion-by-people-could-be-equating-to-a-credit-card-a-week
[iii] 9 Health Benefits of Eating Eggs; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/proven-health-benefits-of-eggs
[iv] CDC and ATSDR Award $7 Million to Begin Multi-Site PFAS Study https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0923-cdc-atsdr-award-pfas-study.html
[v] Microplastics and Human Health: Our Great Future to Think About Now
[vi] How damaging is breathing in microplastics?
[vii] Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood
[viii] Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ contaminate indoor air at worrying levels, study finds https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/aug/31/pfas-toxic-forever-chemicals-air-breathing
[ix] Contribution of common plastic-related endocrine disruptors to epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and tumor progression; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36152835/
[x] Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21367689/
[xi] BPA substitutes may be just as bad as the popular consumer plastic; https://www.science.org/content/article/bpa-substitutes-may-be-just-bad-popular-consumer-plastic
[xii] PFAS: What to Know; https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-pfas
[xiii] Best & Worst Cookware & Bakeware 2022–Safest Non Toxic Brands https://www.mamavation.com/food/nontoxic-cookware-bakeware-investigation-nontoxic-safe-brands.html
[xiv] Food Industry’s Switch to Non-BPA Linings Still Poses Health Risks; https://www.healthline.com/health-news/common-chemicals-in-plastics-linked-to-childhood-obesity
[xv] Occurrence of Microplastics in Tap and Bottled Water: Current Knowledge
[xvi] Reusable plastic bottles release hundreds of chemicals; https://news.ku.dk/all_news/2022/02/reusable-plastic-bottles-release-hundreds-of-chemicals/
[xvii] Recycled plastic bottles leach more chemicals into drinks, review finds; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/18/recycled-plastic-bottles-leach-more-chemicals-into-drinks-review-finds
[xviii] Coke and Pepsi sued for creating a plastic pollution ‘nuisance’ https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/27/california-plastic-pollution-lawsuit-coke-pepsi?__twitter_impression=true
[xix] Circular Claims Fall Flat Again; https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/reports/circular-claims-fall-flat-again/
[xx]Toxic Chemicals Found in Many Cosmetics; https://www.webmd.com/beauty/news/20210615/toxic-chemicals-cosmetics
[xxi] The hidden value of fishmeals: biologically active omega-3s; https://www.iffo.com/hidden-value-fishmeals-biologically-active-omega-3s
[xxii] Ingen øko æg uden fiskemel; https://jyllands-posten.dk/indland/ECE5047978/Ingen-øko-æg-uden-fiskemel/
[xxiii] Professor: PFAS i æg kan også skyldes andet end fiskemel; https://jyllands-posten.dk/indland/ECE14883850/professor-pfas-i-aeg-kan-ogsaa-skyldes-andet-end-fiskemel/
[xxiv] What Are the Dangers of Soy Protein?
[xxv] Omega-3-6-9 Fatty Acids: A Complete Overview
[xxvi] See reference 21
[xxvii] Adding DHA-rich biomass raises omega-3 levels in eggs, hens; https://www.feednavigator.com/Article/2020/02/19/Adding-DHA-rich-biomass-raises-omega-3-levels-in-eggs-hens
[xxviii] Soy, WWF https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/food_practice/sustainable_production/soy/
[xxix] Assessing the effectiveness of microplastic extraction methods on fishmeal with different properties; https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2022/ay/d1ay02154k
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Article updated 26 January, 2023, you can find the original here.
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