That much-debated sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, is going to need more than a pricey PR campaign to fix this one.
After one set of scientists found mercury — yes, everyone's favorite brain-impairing element — in almost half of commercial HFCS, another bunch of scientists decided to get specific and tested 55 common consumer products that use HFCS. And guess what? Almost a third of them contain mercury.
How did the heavy metal get in there? In making HFCS — that "natural" sweetener, as the Corn Refiners Associaton likes to call it — caustic soda is one ingredient used to separate corn starch from the corn kernel. Apparently most caustic soda for years has been produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants, where it can be contaminated with mercury that it passes on to the HFCS, and then to consumers.
David Wallinga, M.D., and his co-authors of "Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup," are naming brand names in their report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. At the top of the list: Quaker Oatmeal to Go, Jack Daniel's Barbecue Sauce from Heinz, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce, and Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars. Oy!
And, although soft drinks, the über-users of HFCS, surprisingly weren't the worst offenders, I'm betting Coca-Cola Classic (coming in at 12th) gets consumed in far higher dietary quantities than Oatmeal to Go.
That's all bad enough, especially considering no level of mercury is considered safe and that it's especially toxic to growing brains — that is, the brains of the people consuming the highest levels of HFCS (children) and the brains of babies in utero. (See the figures in the report.) Worse: People at the FDA and USDA knew about the presence of mercury in HFCS and did nothing about it.
According to a press release from the IATP, Renee Dufault, the lead author in the first study ("Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar," published today in Environmental Health [PDF; abstract here]), was working at the FDA when the commercial HFCS was tested. The IATF release reports, "While the FDA had evidence that commercial HFCS was contaminated with mercury four years ago, the agency did not inform consumers, help change industry practice or conduct additional testing."
I suppose we've already known the FDA is sweet on HFCS (and food from cloned cattle) and can't find a pathogen when it's actually looking for it. But if you can't trust Mr. Quaker, whom can you trust?
Previous Ethicurean posts on HFCS: