Mercury in High-Fructose Corn Syrup?
Researchers Say 17 Products Tested Had Some Mercury; Industry Group Says Syrup Is Safe
WebMD News Archive
Where Did the Mercury Come From?
Wallinga's report doesn't prove that the mercury in the tested products came
from high-fructose corn syrup, but "I'm hard pressed to say where else it
would come from," Wallinga tells WebMD.
Wallinga explains that mercury can be used to make caustic soda, which is
one of the products used to make high-fructose corn syrup. That's outdated
technology; mercury isn't needed to make caustic soda, notes Audrae Erickson,
president of the Corn Refiners Association, in a statement emailed to
Erickson didn't comment specifically on Wallinga's study. Instead, her
statement focuses on a new study published online in Environmental
Health, which shows mercury in some samples of commercial high-fructose
corn syrup tested in 2005.
"This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious
significance," Erickson states. "Our industry has used mercury-free
versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and
caustic soda, for several years."
Wallinga agrees about the technological shift away from mercury. "If you
just look within the confines of the U.S., yes, about 90% of production now is
not using mercury," says Wallinga. "The problem is that we don't
actually know where our companies are buying their high-fructose corn syrup
from ... it's a global industry."
"For me, the take-home message is really that this is a totally
avoidable, unnecessary exposure to mercury," says Wallinga. "We've got
a safer, more efficient technology for making these chemicals that are part of
the ingredients used to manufacture high-fructose corn syrup."
Mercury's Form Unknown
Like Wallinga's report, the study published in Environmental Health
doesn't specify the form of mercury present in the high-fructose corn
"I would imagine that a good majority of the mercury that is detected
would have been in the form of elemental mercury," not methylmercury,
toxicologist Carl Winter, PhD, tells WebMD. Winter, who directs the FoodSafe
Program at the University of California, Davis, says that methylmercury is "by far
the most toxic form of mercury" because methylmercury is better absorbed by
the body than other forms of mercury.
"We have a principle in toxicology, which is the dose makes the
poison," says Winter. "It's the amount of a chemical, not its presence
or absence, that determines the potential for harm, and frankly, I don't see
based on their findings that they've made much of a case that this is something
that consumers need to worry about."
Besides his academic work, Winter is a volunteer spokesman for the Institute of
Food Technologists, a nonprofit scientific society that includes food science
and technology professionals in industry, academia, and government. Winter says
his work has never been funded by food or chemical industries.