Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mercury Linked to High Fructose Corn Syrup

Now you don't have to eat fish to get your allotted share of mercury - it's available on the grocery store shelf.

Mercury, a proven toxin, is the focus of two studies concentrating of the correlation between the presence of mercury in foods that contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). High glucose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn that is used as a replacement for sugar. It is used extensively in cereals, drinks, breads, lunch meats, yogurt, soup, condiments and other food stuffs.

A recent look at HFCS in foods was done by the Institute for Agriculture and Trace Policy (IATP). The group chose 55 brand name foods and beverages that listed HFCS as their first or second ingredient and had them tested for mercury.

Almost one-third of them tested positive for mercury, which was found most prevalent in dairy products, dressings and condiments. No mercury was found in the majority of beverages that were tested. The Institute noted the lack of mercury in beverages as very important as this is where the highest source of HFCS are found in diets. Items high on the list of mercury content include Quaker Oatmeal to Go; Jack Daniel's and Kraft Barbeque sauce; Hershey's Chocolate Syrup and Nutri-Grain strawberry cereal bars.

The IATP cautions, though, that it only had one sample of each product tested, and the report findings (PDF) are not a confirmation that all of one product will contain mercury.

A different study conducted in 2005; but, just recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Health, looked at 20 samples of commercial HFCS from three different manufacturers. The found detectable levels of mercury in nine of the samples (nearly 50%). Concluding that the mercury contamination was not known in the industry, the research was made known to the US Food and Drug Administration at the time. Unfortunately, the IATP notes that FDA has done nothing to change industry practices nor to inform the consumers.

It is thought that mercury makes its way into food due to practices earlier in the supply chain. Caustic soda is one of the ingredients used to separate corn starch from corn kernels. Some industrial chlorine plants that produce caustic soda still use mercury in their production resulting in mercury-contaminated caustic soda resulting in mercury-contaminated HFCS.

Although many plants that produce caustic soda have switched to mercury-free methods; four U.S. plants and about 60 percent of European caustic soda production uses mercury.

The IATP points out that is it possible to switch all caustic soda to mercury-free production. They also recommend the FDA ban the use of mercury-grade ingredients as well as revisit its approval of HFCS as "natural" and "generally recognized as safe."

Since it is impossible to tell which HGCS is tainted with mercury it is recommended that consumers avoid foods with HFCS especially those with it high up on the ingredient list.

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