- Mercury traces have been found in commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a preferred sweetening agent in many foods and beverages. About half of the tested samples showed positive results for mercury content.
- The average American diet contains 12 teaspoons of HFCS per day. For teenagers and high-consumers, the intake can be up to 80% more.
- The presence of mercury in widely consumed HFCS is of concern given its known toxicity. Regular consumers of HFCS, particularly children, may have a significant additional source of mercury exposure.
- Despite the refining industry’s claim of using mercury-free reagents, reports show that ‘mercury-cell’ technology which might cause contamination is still in use.
- The lack of certainty about whether a product’s HFCS was made from potentially mercury-tainted elements highlights the need for a stronger push for food corporations to use only mercury-free ingredients.
Studies originating from the U.S. have shone a light on the presence of mercury, a harmful element, in commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Shockingly, approximately half of the samples tested gave positive results for mercury content. The element was also identified in almost one third of 55 widely recognized food and beverage items that list HFCS as their highest, or second highest, component on the label.
The Dangerous Consequence of HFCS Consumption
With HFCS superseding sugar as a preferred sweetening agent in several food and beverage products, including bread, cereals, soups, condiments, and more, the average American’s diet contains 12 teaspoons of HFCS per day. This number rises alarmingly for teenagers and high-consumers, who intake up to 80% more HFCS than the average person.
“The toxicity of mercury is a well-known fact. The huge consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, particularly by children, makes it a possibly significant extra source of mercury that has been overlooked all this while.” said Dr. David Wallinga, co-author of both studies and representative for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
Demonstration of Mercury in HFCS
The initial study, covered in the _Environmental Health_, showed the detection of mercury in almost half of the 20 HFCS samples that were tested. In a subsequent investigation conducted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a non-profit watch-dog organization, mercury was found in almost 33% of the 55 brand-name foods. Reporting most frequently from HFCS-inclusive dairy products, and condiments.
However, a group representing the refining industry called these findings into question, outlining the possibility of them being based on obsolete and doubtful details. They stated, “Our sector has been utilizing mercury-free variants of the two re-agents used in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for many years,” maintaining the vital role of these reagents in regulating pH balances.
Contamination Risk: Not Fully Eradicated
Despite these defensive statements, reports from four plants situated in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, and West Virginia, imply that ‘mercury-cell’ technology which may result in contamination is still in use.
Ben Lilliston, a member of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, opened up about the possibility that the discoveries published by _Environmental Health_ were based on details amassed by FDA in 2005. The organization’s review was derived from products purchased ‘straight off the shelf’ during the fall of 2008.
It is a common occurrence to use mercury-tainted caustic soda in the production of HFCS. The tainting happens when mercury cells are utilised for the production of caustic soda.
Message to the Masses: Be Informed, Be Safe
Dr. Wallinga concluded by saying, “The letdown here is that nobody can be sure whether their favourite snack or soda contains HFCS made from elements like caustic soda which might be contaminated with mercury. However, the silver lining is that HFCS ingredients free of mercury do exist. What’s needed is a stronger push for food corporations to use only these ingredients.”
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