Mercury found in some HFCS

>> Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yet another reason to be done with HFCS - two recent studies have found mercury in HFCS samples and foods. The first study found detectable levels of mercury in 9 out of 20 commercial HFCS samples. In the second study the Institute for Agriculture and Trade, which also participated in the first study, found that almost a third of 55 popular products with HFCS as the first or second most prominent ingredient contained mercury. The mercury contamination appears to come from the use of mercury-contaminated caustic soda during HFCS production.

Not all HFCS is contaminated and not all products containing HFCS have mercury in them. Clearly, this needs to be investigated more and changes made. Caustic soda can be produced mercury free using membrane technology, which would possibly eliminate the mercury in HFCS. Given the toxicity of mercury and Americans' tendency to consume HFCS-containing foods with gusto, any detectable amount of mercury in HFCS is cause for concern.

You can take a look at the products tested and the mercury levels from the second study here.

Care to read more on this subject? It's making the rounds in the blog world.
Food Politics by Marion Nestle
The Ethicurean
Accidental Hedonist
The Drill Coach


Mark January 27, 2009 at 12:37 PM  

This is where I come to get my updates! Thanks as always!

Lori January 27, 2009 at 12:37 PM  

I hate to say this, but if the actual HFCS doesn't make people wake up maybe the risk of mercury will. I hope the take care of the problem quickly for the health of the consumer, but I also hope it could mean more people joining the fight against HFCS in our foods.

Sagan January 27, 2009 at 5:02 PM  

Interesting, and thanks for those links. At least it gives us more reasons to stay away from HFCS!

Rachel January 27, 2009 at 7:55 PM  

Oh snap.

Honestly, HFCS worries me a lot, and this is the terrifying icing on the cake.

James Hubbard M.D. M.P.H. January 27, 2009 at 8:41 PM  

Thanks Cathy.
Certainly another reason to avoid HFCS.

Do you know if this is methylmercury or another type. If another, does the FDA have an acceptable limit, say for prenant women?

cathy January 28, 2009 at 6:47 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
cathy January 28, 2009 at 7:01 AM  

James Hubbard - The studies looked at total mercury content measured by atomic absorption. They did NOT look at the form that the mercury is in. It may be methylmercury, but it is more likely elemental mercury or mercury in another form (just an educated guess given its source).

Methylmercury is a dangerous form of mercury that accumulates in fish. The USDA has set limits on methylmercury consumption - 0.1 micrograms/kg/day (according to one of the journal articles). No limits have been set on total mercury or elemental mercury consumption. In the Environmental Health article, they estimate a potential total mercury consumption of 28.5 micrograms/day per person.

The FDA set a limit of 1 ppm methylmercury in fish. The limit started as 0.5 ppm total mercury in 1969, but was raised to 1 ppm total mercury. In 1984, they changed the limit to 1 ppm methylmercury only. There is no limit on total mercury in fish. (And, as you can imagine, these limits are fairly controversial.)

Mercury is toxic in whatever form it takes, but certain forms are more dangerous than others. Methylmercury is easily absorbed by our bodies and can cross the blood/brain barrier with relative ease. Elemental mercury isn't as absorbed nearly as easily by our bodies, but it is still a toxic element that can accumulate in our bodies and potential cause cumulative problems over time.

I don't think that we need to panic because of these reports (though I am glad that we're not consuming HFCS anymore!), but it is clear to me that this needs to be thoroughly investigated by the FDA and the manufacturers - especially as we don't know the form that the mercury is in. The information presented in these articles is disturbing, and they raise as many questions as they answer. With a public that consumes such large quantities of HFCS on a daily basis - and especially children who are particularly vulnerable to developmental effects from mercury - we need to take this seriously.

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