Research Showing Fish Enjoy Eating Microplastics a ‘Complete Fantasy’

school of fish
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A 2016 research paper claiming fish prefer the taste of plastic to that of food has been retracted by the journal Science. The research, which claimed that young fish believed microplastics to be a high-energy resource, was deemed “a complete fantasy” by Josefin Sundin and Fredrik Jutfelt, Swedish researchers and colleagues of the lead author of the original study, Oona Lonnstedt.

After an investigation, the Central Ethical Review Board in Sweden recommended the retraction of the report, entitled “Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology.”

The original research, conducted by Lonnstedt and Peter Eklov of Uppsala University in Sweden, was published in Science last June. The paper targeted microplastics, including plastic microbeads in cosmetics, as a main contributor to fish becoming “smaller, slower, and more stupid” than those hatched in clean waters, the BBC reported at the time.

However, scientists working at the same research station felt that Lonnstedt and Eklov hadn’t been there long enough to carry out the experiments they described, reports Fortune. Skepticism linked to this research began mounting early: ten days after the original paper was published, its authors claimed that the laptop containing their original research data had been stolen, and no backups existed; Science published an “editorial expression of concern” to communicate this information with readers at the time.

The Review Board’s report, dated April 21 of this year, cited “lack of ethical approval for the experiments,” “absence of original data,” and “widespread lack of clarity concerning how the experiments were conducted” as the key motivations behind their recommendation.

“Although the authors have told Science that they disagree with elements of the Board’s report, and although Uppsala University has not yet concluded its own investigation, the weight of evidence is that the paper should now be retracted,” writes Science. “In light of the Board’s recommendation and a 28 April 2017 request from the authors to retract the paper, Science is retracting the paper in full.”

Despite this retraction, plastics are demonstrably hazardous to marine life. According to a 2015 study from Plymouth University, at least 700 marine species worldwide are affected by ocean debris, 92 percent of which is plastic.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.