Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

High fructose corn syrup may contain mercury

High fructose corn syrup is not as sweet as it may seem, as recent research and new publications have reported this past week.  Products containing the sweetener, which I have encouraged consumers to avoid in prior articles, were recently tested for mercury contamination.  Yes, that’s right…mercury.

Apparently, the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made by a process through which contamination with mercury can occur.  The caustic soda that removes the corn starch from the kernel has been done for decades by mercury-grade caustic soda.  Unfortunately, the mercury can end up in the HFCS.  While most processing plants do not use the mercury-grade caustic soda anymore, some still do.  And, it is impossible to know which HFCS has been contaminated without testing.

However, in 2003, when the EPA identified that 7 tons of mercury were missing from each of the 8 US plants still using the mercury-grade process in the year 2000, investigators jumped on the case.  As a side note, while there are 8 US plants still using the outdated process, there are 50 plants worldwide.

So testing is what they did.  Actually, the USDA tested 20 samples of HFCS in 2005.  The results showed that 9 of the samples contained mercury!  Then, the FDA failed to inform consumers of this finding.  And, here, 4 years later with Americans consuming on average 12 teaspoons of HFCS per day and teenagers consuming potentially up to 80% more than that, where are we?  A nation full of individuals who may be affected by hidden mercury in their foods.

Additionally, new research released last week by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) detected mercury in nearly one-third of 55 popular brandname food and beverage products where HFCS is the first or second highest labeled ingredient.  Some products were by popular brands like Quaker, Hershey’s, Kraft and Smucker’s.  Are you reading your food labels?

If you know that mercury is a neurotoxin, deemed not safe at any level – and especially dangerous to children, pregnant women and their fetuses – does it send a chill down your spine?  It does mine.  This evidence gives new light to the idea that mercury is a more significant health threat than before.  And, I wonder, does this have any influence on conditions like autism?  I mean, we fret about not giving our children vaccines that contain thimerosol (a preservative containing a very small amount of mercury that the FDA has deemed safe) – but this is something even bigger in my mind.

So, what can you do?  First of all, read food labels.  While much of the HFCS produced in the US is done now with mercury-free technology (in fact the FDA allows HFCS to be called “natural”), not all of it is.  Likely, many brands will now conduct their own product testing and begin to market their products as mercury-free.

Also, pay attention to health news and updates to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Finally, encourage legislation like the one that then-Senator Barack Obama introduced to Congress in 2007 that would ban the mercury-grade processing by 2012.  We cannot afford to ignore this information.

For more information:

http://healthychild.org/blog/comments/much_high_fructose_corn_syrup_contaminated_with_mercury_new_study_finds/

http://www.ehjournal.net/content/8/1/2

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