The sweet, sweet taste of . . . Mercury?

This story broke a few weeks ago, but I haven’t had a chance to write about it until now.  

In case you needed another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), it is now revealed that the manufacturing process often leads to it being tainted with mercury, which can then end up in “foods” made with HFCS.  Better yet, the FDA has known about this but chose to ignore it.  

A peer-reviewed study was published In Environmental Health Journal on January 26, 2009.  The lead researcher used to work for the FDA and used data collected while she was working for the agency.  

Here is the abstract of the study, the full article can be read by clicking here.

“Mercury cell chlor-alkali products are used to produce thousands of other products including food ingredients such as citric acid, sodium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is used in food products to enhance shelf life. A pilot study was conducted to determine if high fructose corn syrup contains mercury, a toxic metal historically used as an anti-microbial. High fructose corn syrup samples were collected from three different manufacturers and analyzed for total mercury. The samples were found to contain levels of mercury ranging from below a detection limit of 0.005 to 0.570 micrograms mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup. Average daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup is about 50 grams per person in the United States. With respect to total mercury exposure, it may be necessary to account for this source of mercury in the diet of children and sensitive populations.”

Basically, while manufacturing HFCS, mercury grade caustic soda, hydrochloric acid and sodium hypochlorite are sometimes used. The mercury in these chemical can leach into the the HFCS. Here is another quote from the study:

“HFCS is the end product from a corn wet-milling process that involves a number of steps in a product line that yields corn oil, animal feed, starch products, and corn sweeteners. Several chemicals are required to make HFCS, including caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, alpha-amylase, gluco-amylase, isomerase, filter aid, powdered carbon, calcium chloride, and magnesium sulfate [11]. The caustic soda and hydrochloric acid are used throughout the milling process to adjust the pH of the product line. The product line starts with corn and the cornstarch molecule is then converted to different products by various methods that involve acids, bases, sodium hypochlorite and enzymes [12]. Should mercury grade caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, or sodium hypochlorite (derived from mercury grade chor-alkali chemicals) be used in the milling process, it seemed plausible to the EHO that mercury may well end up in the final product – HFCS.”

In February 2005, the FDA collected 20 samples of HFCS and tested it for mercury. Nine of the twenty samples contained mercury ranging from 0.065 μg to 0.570 μg mercury/g HFCS.

Even if you don’t want to read the whole study, (though it is rather short and readable) at least read the Implications section. Here are a few gems from it:

“However, with 45% of the HFCS samples containing mercury in this small study, it would be prudent and perhaps essential for public health that additional research be conducted by the FDA or some other public health agency to determine if products containing HFCS also contain mercury. In 2004, several member states of the European Union reported finding mercury concentrations in beverages, cereals and bakery ware, and sweeteners [14] – all of which may contain HFCS.”

“Mercury is routinely detected by the TDS in fish, liver, and poultry because farmers routinely use fishmeal and/or fish oil as feed for certain livestock to include chickens, swine, dairy cows, and farmed fish.”

“As part of the review process for this article, the authors contacted manufacturers for more information on the % concentration of HFCS in their products and the common response back from manufacturers was that this information is proprietary. With the reported average daily consumption of 49.8 g HFCS per person, however, and our finding of mercury in the range of 0.00 to 0.570 μg mercury/g HFCS, we can estimate that the potential average daily total mercury exposure from HFCS could range from zero to 28.4 μg mercury.”

This, from a product that the FDA has said can be called “natural.”


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