High fructose corn syrup can be found in many products today, from sodas to soups to crackers. It has been linked to obesity by some consumer groups, but it is hard to avoid if you buy processed food. A recent report published in Environmental Health might make you rethink your next trip to the grocery store. Mercury was discovered in almost half of the samples taken from high fructose corn syrup used in commercial applications. Products by Smucker’s, Kraft, Hershey’s, and Quaker all tested positive for the toxic metal.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested 20 samples of high fructose corn syrup in 2005. Nine of the 20 samples had detectable amounts of mercury in them. Even though the FDA knew about this mercury problem four years ago, consumers were not informed, and no additional testing was ordered. A different study conducted by IATP, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, found mercury in almost one-third of 55 different products containing high fructose corn syrup as one of the top two ingredients.
In order to make high fructose corn syrup, caustic soda is used to remove the corn starch from the kernel. One of the methods to create caustic soda involves using a mercury cathode. Mercury used in the process can contaminate the caustic soda, which in turn, can contaminate the high fructose corn syrup with mercury. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell whether a product was made with mercury-contaminated high fructose corn syrup or not.
Mercury ingestion can harm people of all ages, but it can be especially harmful to children, infants, and developing fetuses. Mercury can affect a person’s memory, fine motor and spatial skills, cognitive thinking skills, and attention span. It can also impair a person’s hearing, speech, and ability to walk. It can cause muscle weakness and make one uncoordinated, and can cause a “pins and needles” sensation.
Could mercury be the reason that high fructose corn syrup has been linked by many to obesity? News reports and scientific articles have been produced that link the rate of increase in obesity rates to the rate of increase in consumption of high fructose corn syrup. Whether that link is coincidental, is related to the presence of mercury in high fructose corn syrup, or has an entirely different cause, remains unknown. Further studies would have to be conducted to find out. In the meantime, perhaps we have more incentive to eat more naturally, and avoid products that contain high fructose corn syrup.
“Mercury”. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/mercury/effects.htm
“Much High Fructose Corn Syrup Contaminated With Mercury, New Study Finds”. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. January 26, 2009. http://www.iatp.org/iatp/press.cfm?refID=105025
“Sodium Hydroxide”. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caustic_soda
Warner, Melanie. “A Sweetener With A Bad Rap”. New York Times. July 2, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/02/business/yourmoney/02syrup.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all