March 22, 2009

News about Mercury in Corn Syrup & Food dyes from Feingold

Mercury in any form is an extremely potent neurological toxin. Organic mercury compounds such as methylmercury readily cross the blood-brain barrier and damage brain tissue.

As you probably know, there has been much concern lately about the mercury in dental amalgam fillings and vaccines. The FDA monitors mercury levels in fish, poultry and livestock because fish meal and fish oil containing mercury are often used in animal feeds. However, there is no surveillance program for mercury contamination in food ingredients like corn syrup. No problem was ever expected, so nobody ever looked.

Then one day in 2003, it came to the attention of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that in the eight companies making something called chlor-alkali in the United States, there was a mercury-related problem. Specifically, each of these companies had been losing 7 tons of mercury a year, and nobody knew where it went!

Several chemicals are required to make high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and what these chlor-alkali companies were making is called mercury-grade caustic soda and hydrochloric acid.

These chemicals are sold to other companies, who use them in the manufacturing of corn syrup. The chemicals help to control acidity.

The FDA wanted to find the missing mercury, and their investigation led them to Vulcan Chemical Company in Wisconsin, which was the only company to find out where its missing mercury went. The "lost" mercury wasn't actually lost at all. They found it in their chlor-alkali products – so they began to worry that it might be in corn syrup, too!

The agency commissioned a small study (Default 2009) to measure the amount of mercury found in samples of corn syrup produced by three manufacturers. They examined a total of 20 samples: ten from Company A, five from Company B, and five from Company C.

Default found that 9 of the 20 samples (45%) contained mercury. However, the distribution was not even: For Company A, 9 of the 10 samples (90%) had NO detectable mercury. However, 8 of the 10 samples (80%) from the other two companies DID contain mercury.

It was concluded that Company A probably used the better “membrane grade” caustic soda (which does not require mercury), while Companies B & C were using “mercury grade” caustic soda. This could not be verified with either A, B, or C, since information about the source of ingredients is secret. The fancy term manufacturers use is “proprietary information.” Moreover, when university researchers wanted to do a larger follow-up study, and tried to get more samples directly from the corn syrup manufacturers, the companies refused to cooperate.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, Americans eat an average of 49.8 grams of HFCS per day. The authors comment that people drinking a lot of corn-syrup sweetened beverages could easily be getting more than this average.

As part of the study, the authors contacted manufacturers for more information on how much corn syrup is in their products, but were told (again) that this information is “proprietary.”

The authors say, however, that by using the reported average daily consumption of 49.8 g HFCS per person, and their own measurement of mercury in their samples, they were able to estimate that the average daily total mercury intake from HFCS could range from zero to 28.4 micrograms of mercury per day. That is just a bit more than the amount of mercury in a flu shot or a tetanus shot (25 micrograms). The amount considered safe by the EPA is .1 microgram/Kg body weight – this means that a 200-pound man could safely be exposed to 9 micrograms of mercury from all sources every day. While the flu or tetanus shot exceeds this “safe” level, you don’t get one every day. But if you or your children are eating a lot of products with corn syrup, you better hope that your brand’s manufacturer bought it from Company A – or you may well be getting up to three times the “safe” level just from your food . . . EVERY DAY.

I was wondering how to compare this amount of mercury to the amount in a can of tuna – as you probably know, the FDA has recommended restricting the amount of tuna you eat. While the amount actually in tuna varies by source location and type of tuna, with Pacific light canned tuna having the least, the average is .35 ppm (or .35 mg/kg) according to the FDA at

If my arithmetic is correct, that translates to 60 micrograms per 6-ounce can of tuna. Well, it’s nice to know that the amount of mercury in your daily dose of corn syrup is probably a little less than the amount in a whole can of tuna. But if you are eating it every day, it is a lot. And if you are eating both (having a soft drink with your tuna sandwich, are you?) then it is even more.

The authors warn, “Quantitative information on long-term effects of inorganic mercury compounds on humans does not exist.” In other words, like cigarettes, it won't kill you today, but what will it do to you over the next 20 or 30 years? And what will it do to your children over the next 50 or 60 years? Nobody knows.

Calling for more research, the authors conclude: “Mercury contamination of food products as a result of the use of mercury contaminated HFCS seems like a very real possibility. With daily per capita consumption of HFCS in the US averaging about 50 grams and daily mercury intakes from HFCS ranging up to 28 micrograms, this potential source of mercury may exceed other major sources of mercury especially in high-end consumers of beverages sweetened with HFCS.”

If you would like to read the entire article, see it at

Although corn syrup is not eliminated by the Feingold Program, we mark products containing it in our Foodlists, and we recommend new members avoid it when beginning the diet until they know how sensitive their children are. Now there is another good reason for all of us to minimize our exposure to corn syrup. Pay attention to items marked in the Foodlist, and read your ingredient labels.

Mercury can also be found in food dyes. The FDA allows it at 1 part per million. But there is another toxic contaminant allowed at 10 and 20 times that amount: LEAD!

In the wake of the many recalled toys from China over Christmas, one of our parents wrote in to comment on Congress' effort to place such strict limits on lead in children's toys while still allowing the US to put lead (albeit very small amounts) in our children's food (through dyes). Her suggested headline: "Congress does not want our children to play with lead, but they think it's OK to eat!!!"

Yes - for those of you new to the concept, not only do the synthetic colorings have numerous side effects that damage the health and behavior of our children (and ourselves), but they also are allowed to contain lead, mercury, arsenic, and several frankly carcinogenic chemicals. One study (Lancaster 1999) showed that the carcinogenic compound benzidine was found in Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) at up to 270 times the allowed amount. So how much lead, mercury, and arsenic are really in there? Nobody, apparently, has yet bothered to try to find out ... but if any of you are graduate students in chemistry, here is your next research project. Write me - let's talk.

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