Two studies find mercury in high fructose corn syrup

Articles
January 27, 2009

Two studies find mercury in high fructose corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup has become a common ingredient that extends shelf life and replaces sugar as a sweetener in many everyday processed foods. Although FDA has ruled that HFCS can be labeled ‘natural,’ and the American Medical Association concluded “it doesn’t appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners,” its detractors now have one more reason to be upset by its ubiquity on supermarket shelves. Much of it is contaminated with mercury, according to findings of two new studies—one published in yesterday’s issue of the Environmental Health science journal, and the other also disclosed Jan. 26 by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). “High fructose corn syrup samples were collected from three different manufacturers and analyzed…[and] 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,” wrote Renee Dufault et al, in the article, Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar. “Average daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup is about 50 grams per person. 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,” they urged. Mercury turned up in nine out of 20 samples of commercial HFCS collected by Dufault while she was an environmental health officer for FDA in 2005. She and co-authors published their findings now after FDA didn’t press the issue.

High fructose corn syrup has become a common ingredient that extends shelf life and replaces sugar as a sweetener in many everyday processed foods.  Although FDA has ruled that HFCS can be labeled ‘natural,’ and the American Medical Association concluded “it doesn’t appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners,” its detractors now have one more reason to be upset by its ubiquity on supermarket shelves.

Much of it is contaminated with mercury, according to findings of two new studies—one published in yesterday’s issue of the Environmental Health science journal, and the other also disclosed Jan. 26 by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

“High fructose corn syrup samples were collected from three different manufacturers and analyzed…[and] 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,” wrote Renee Dufault et al, in the article, Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar.  “Average daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup is about 50 grams per person. 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,” they urged.

Mercury turned up in nine out of 20 samples of commercial HFCS collected by Dufault while she was an environmental health officer for FDA in 2005. She and co-authors published their findings now after FDA didn’t press the issue.

The separate IATP study detected mercury in nearly one-third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first or second highest labeled ingredient. Examined for the Not so sweet: missing mercury and high fructose corn syrup report were beverages, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, yogurt and more. Mercury was most prevalent in dairy items, dressings and condiments, said IATP.

“Mercury is toxic in all its forms,” said IATP’s David Wallinga, M.D., and a co-author of both studies. “Given how much high fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the FDA to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply.” 

A good place to improve, believes SupermarketGuru.com, would be in completing the phase-out of mercury cell technology, which is sometimes used to produce caustic soda to separate corn starch from the corn kernel. This process, says IATP, could contaminate the caustic soda and ultimately HFCS with mercury. Beyond that, we feel the more light we shine on any questionable aspects of HFCS, the smarter the food choices we all will make and the sooner federal food policies could address any possible risks of this substance.