Thursday, August 6, 2009

Is there mercury in your sweetner?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 2:39 PM

After reading about how the food industry engineers our food in David Kessler's The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, this news isn't surprising at all.

Dr. Kessler, of course, was the head of the F.D.A. under the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton.

At issue here, is high-fructose corn syrup -- which is in damn near every processed food in America. It's also one of the cheapest ways to infuse food with sugar, an ingredient that makes food addictive.

If the specter of obesity and diabetes wasn't enough to turn you off high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), try this: New research suggests that the sweetener could be tainted with mercury, putting millions of children at risk for developmental problems.

In 2004, Renee Dufault, an environmental health researcher at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stumbled upon an obscure Environmental Protection Agency report on chemical plants' mercury emissions. Some chemical companies, she learned, make lye by pumping salt through large vats of mercury. Since lye is a key ingredient in making HFCS (it's used to separate corn starch from the kernel), Dufault wondered if mercury might be getting into the ubiquitous sweetener that makes up 1 out of every 10 calories Americans eat.

Notice the use of the word "lye" above. Also note that lye, aka potassium hydroxide, is also an ingredient in bleach, soap, dye and alkaline batteries among other things.

Dufault sent HFCS samples from three manufacturers that used lye to labs at the University of California-Davis and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The labs found mercury in most of the samples. In September 2005, Dufault presented her findings to the FDA's center for food safety. She was surprised by what happened next. "I was instructed not to do any more investigation," she recalls. FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek says that the agency decided against further investigation because it wasn't convinced "that there was any evidence of a risk."

More from Mother Jones.

Here's Kessler talking about the power of food, our obsession with it and how the food industry manipulates us:

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