Mercury in Corn Syrup?

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

That high fructose corn syrup isn't exactly health food won't come as a surprise to most people. But just in case its less-than-stellar nutritional profile wasn't enough to make you wary of the ubiquitous goop, get this: HFCS could contain mercury, a known neurotoxin.

Melinda Wenner's "Corn Syrup's Mercury Surprise" (July/August 2009) tells the story of Renee Dufault, an FDA researcher who began to suspect that some high fructose corn syrup might contain mercury when she learned from an EPA report that some chemical companies make lye by pumping salt through large vats of the heavy metal. Lye, Dufault knew, is often used to separate corn starch from the kernel during the manufacturing of HFCS. Curious, Dufault sent some samples of foods containing HFCS out for mercury testing, and sure enough, the lab found mercury in most of the samples. A second test confirmed her findings. At around the same time, a study published in the journal Environmental Health reported that researchers had found low levels of mercury in certain brands of kid-favored foods, like grape jelly and chocolate milk.

But when corn lobbyists got involved, the plot thickened: Some types of mercury are more dangerous than others, and the Corn Refiners' Association, an industry group, pointed out that neither Dufault nor the Environmental Health study identified which type mercury was present in the samples tested. And here's where things get really strange: When Dufault tried to report the findings to the FDA, she was told to stop investigating. 

Which kind of mercury is most likely in HFCS? And why has the FDA been silent on the matter? Read more here.