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From body to farm to plate: The effects of pharmaceuticals

Hormones, antibiotics and other medicines can make their way into fertilisers and potentially into produce. Although this could compromise food safety, EU researchers found that the drugs they studied presented little risk to humans.
From body to farm to plate: The effects of pharmaceuticals
Around the world, large amounts of pharmaceuticals – that is, drugs such as hormones, antibiotics and parasiticides – are used to treat people and animals. These drugs are metabolised and then excreted in urine and faeces, which are often used to fertilise farmland.

By studying the toxicity and uptake of pharmaceuticals in soils and plants, scientists can assess the potential risks of pharmaceuticals in agriculture.

The EU-funded project PHARMASOILS (Fate and effects of pharmaceuticals in soil-plants system) investigated the effect of residual drugs on food safety and crop production in the United Kingdom. To do this, the researchers identified important compounds and developed ways to measure their impact.

Scientists have identified a range of pharmaceuticals in sewage and in soils, and have found that these compounds accumulate in plants. This could negatively affect not only the plants, but also the people and animals that eat them.

PHARMASOILS found that the medicines they looked at pose only a limited risk to human health. Even soils with worst-case levels of the study pharmaceuticals were not a risk to human health.

The researchers also showed that the concentrations of studied pharmaceuticals normally found in soils are unlikely to kill plants, but could affect crop productivity.

This project offers a useful tool for predicting which pharmaceuticals are most likely to be absorbed by plants. The results will improve our understanding of crop productivity and food safety, ultimately benefiting the health of consumers and the security of farmers.

Related information

Keywords

Pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, food safety, toxicity, soils, plants, PHARMASOILS
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