January 28, 2009

Study Finds Traces Of Mercury In Corn Syrup

New research suggests that common foods made with high fructose corn syrup may contain mercury.  Another study suggests that corn syrup itself may contain the toxin.

The corn syrup industry objected to the findings, calling them outdated, but researchers said it was important for the public to know if there are sources of toxic metal in the products they are consuming.

A study conducted by former Food and Drug Administration scientist Renee Dufault, which appears in the journal Environmental Health, found detectable mercury in nine of the 20 corn syrup samples tested.

According to Dufault, the FDA had been informed about her findings but had not followed up.

Dr. David Wallinga, food safety researcher at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, did follow up on the study by researching actual food.

"When I learned of that work, I said that is interesting but we don't just go out and eat a spoonful of high fructose corn syrup," Wallinga told Reuters News.

"We went and looked at supermarket samples where high fructose corn syrup was the first or second ingredient on the label," he said.  "We found about one out of three had mercury above the detection limit."

The Corn Refiners Association disputed the conclusion by saying the "study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance."

The samples studied by Wallinga were taken in 2005, the most recent available according to the researchers.

Wallinga speculates that mercury is getting into the food while being manufactured in plants that use mercury-grade caustic soda.

"Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two reagents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years," said Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association.

Wallinga said that consumers should be informed about potential sources of mercury in food, to limit their intake of the toxin.  Previous studies have shown that some fish can also be high in mercury.

"The best mercury exposure is no exposure at all," Wallinga said.  "Even at low levels methylmercury can harm the developing brain. The last thing we should intentionally do is add to it."

Wallinga and his team did not test foods without corn syrup to see if they also contained traces of mercury.


Image Caption: high fructose corn syrup is used in nearly all processed foods and beverages, including soft drinks, yogurt, cookies, salad dressing and tomato soup


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