“Here, Honey: Have Another Teaspoon of Mercury in Your Juice”

Posted January 30, 2009 by

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This week, it was reported that mercury is contained in half the tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup in our food— yes, that’s the sweetener that has replaced sugar in much of the stuff Americans consume every day. From catsup, juice and strawberry jelly to Coca-Cola, this substance laces uncountable items lining our grocery store shelves. And here’s the kicker — reportedly, the FDA knew about it and sat on the information. (This, coming on the heels of the news that the peanut butter factory behind the recent salmonella outbreak has a long rapsheet of health violations.)

According to the study, the average American consumes about 12 teaspoons of HFCS a day, while researchers have determined that teens (and other “high consumers”) take in up to 80 per cent more than that. Mercury has been linked to learning disabilities in children and heart disease in adults.Many experts are saying the amount of mercury we’re putting in our bodies is very low, and that we shouldn’t worry about it. Well, I don’t know about you, but any amount of a toxic chemical in my kid’s food is too much for me.

Said Dr. David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and co-author of the study, “Mercury is toxic in all its forms. 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 [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply.”

And where is the mercury coming from? Here’s a direct quote from Medical News Today: “For decades, HFCS has been made using mercury-grade caustic soda produced in so-called “chlor-alkali” or industrial chlorine plants that use mercury cells. The caustic soda, which can thus contain traces of mercury, is used to separate the corn starch (that goes to make the syrup) from the kernel.”

I’ve been trying to limit HFCS for years anyway — I swear they make my son rabid when he consumes too much, as I’ve blogged about before — but this is just another reason to do so. I also can’t help but wonder: What effect are all the chemicals in our food having on our kids’ health — and behavior?

What do you think? Do we need to limit our intake of HFCS — and is it affecting our kids — or is this just a false alarm?


Elisabeth Wilkins is the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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