Potential Impacts on Food Safety and Availability and Economic Activity

Without immediate action, the environmental impacts and the economic costs are due to increase: as mentioned in the section “Plastics in the ocean: Sources, volumes, trends,” more than a hundred million tonnes of plastics are estimated to have been dumped already to the oceans, and projections in plastic production and consumption indicate that plastic waste inputs in the sea may have an exponential increase if no urgent actions are taken [6]: on average, plastic consumption reached 100 kg per person per year in Western Europe and North America and 20 kg in Asia [76], and these figures are expected to grow rapidly in populated developing countries as urban population increases and urban dwellers must purchase all of their—plastic-packaged—food and beverage (see Figure 10.1).

As stated before, EDCs introduced via plastics may already be affecting marine biodiversity, raising additional concerns about food safety and security in the near future. Perhaps the most important source of dietary exposure of humans to microplastics at present is via filter-feeding shellfish, which retain particles from suspension on their gills for subsequent ingestion and thus they are directly exposed to micro- and nanoplastics via the water column. There is ample evidence of the ingestion of microplastics by bivalves [26], for example, nine of the most commercially popular species of bivalves purchased from a fishing market in Shanghai were found to be contaminated with microplastics. Based on the abundances observed, it was estimated that Chinese shellfish consumers could be exposed to 100,000s of microplastics each year [23,77].

In the case that marine biodiversity and food safety and availability are affected, this would represent a serious economic impact at a global level, especially in countries/ islands where fish is a staple food, by exacerbating poverty [41,78,79] in a context of climate change and growing competition for natural resources. Fish contributes, or exceeds, 50% of total animal protein intake in some Small Island Developing States, as well as in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka [80]. It is estimated that fish, bivalves and crustaceans provide more than 3.2 billion people with almost 20% of their average per capita intake of animal protein, and 5.1 billion people with 10% of such protein. Over 53% of the global trade in fish and seafood originates in developing countries whose net trade income (export-import), valued at US$35 billion in 2012, is greater than the net trade income of the other agricultural commodities combined. Furthermore, around 260 million people are involved in global marine capture fisheries, including full-time and part-time jobs in the direct and indirect sectors [67,81].

As a reference for the economic magnitude of the problems posed by “on land” endocrine disruptor chemicals, according to a series of studies released by the Endocrine

Society, and only taking into account medical costs,’ routine exposure to EDCs found in pesticides and in everyday consumer items in homes costs, only to the EU, €157 billion annually [82] and $340 billion annually in the US [83], a magnitude similar to the cost of smoking-related illness—the largest single cost coming from effects on children.

 
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