HFCS use has skyrocketed in recent decades as the sweetener has replaced sugar in many processed foods. HFCS is found in sweetened beverages, breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments. On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS. Consumption by teenagers and other high consumers can be up to 80 percent above average levels.
“Mercury is toxic in all its forms,” said IATP’s David Wallinga, M.D., and a co-author in
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.”
In the Environmental Health article, Dufault et al. found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. Dufault was working at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when the tests were done in 2005. She and co-authors conclude that possible mercury contamination of food chemicals like HFCS was not common knowledge within the food industry that frequently uses the sweetener. 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.
In its report, titled “Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup,” IATP notes that mercury was most prevalent in HFCS-containing dairy products, followed by dressings and condiments.
In making HFCS, caustic soda is used, among other things, to separate corn starch from the corn kernel. For decades, HFCS has been made using mercury-grade caustic soda produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants. The use of mercury cells to produce caustic soda can contaminate caustic soda, and ultimately HFCS, with mercury.
“The bad news is that nobody knows whether or not their soda or snack food contains HFCS made from ingredients like caustic soda contaminated with mercury,” said Dr. Wallinga. “The good news is that mercury-free HFCS ingredients exist. Food companies just need a good push to only use those ingredients.”