Ok, so, on to what inspired me to do some digging: Mr Watt mentions that the industry defense against the charges of mercury contamination in HFCS focused on the fact that the information was outdated. Here are a couple examples from our favorite lobbyist group of exactly that argument:
HFCS Mercury Study Flawed
Alan Watt more of less says: ok so HFCS USED to contain mercury? And now it doesn't? Well that's certainly reassuring.
One of the reports that characterizes the intentional mercury "contamination" is Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup, by David Wallinga, M.D., Janelle Sorensen, Pooja Mottl, Brian Yablon, M.D. (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, Minnesota: January 2009.) This document suggests that the early stages of HFCS production may involve an agent that contains mercury.
HFCS is synthesized in a highly specialized, industrial process using a number of enzymes and other inputs. Either membrane-grade or mercury-grade caustic soda can be used. At the beginning of the process, caustic soda helps separate the corn starch from the corn kernel. Along with hydrochloric acid, it also is used throughout the process to maintain a pH balance.So, how did Audrae Erickson react to this study, as well as other related reports? Well, she of course denied the charges on the grounds, as stated above and in the title, that the study was overcome by events. (The Corn Refiners Association also paid folks to disprove the studies.) Here's the complete news release:
January 26, 2009
CONTACT: Audrae Erickson, President
WASHINGTON, DC – The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) today challenged the relevance and accuracy of information published by Environmental Health asserting that certain tests found measurable levels of mercury in high fructose corn syrup.
“This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance. Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years. These mercury-free re-agents perform important functions, including adjusting pH balances,” stated Audrae Erickson, President, Corn Refiners Association. “For more than 150 years, corn wet millers have been perfecting the process of refining corn to make safe ingredients for the American food supply.”
“It is important that Americans are provided accurate, science-based information. They should know that high fructose corn syrup is safe,” continued Erickson. “In 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration formally listed high fructose corn syrup as safe for use in food and reaffirmed that decision in 1996.”
“High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets FDA’s requirements for the use of the term ‘natural.” Erickson said.
ok, so what's interesting about this rebuttal? First of all: "Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years." As Alan Watt pointed out: oh, so for several years now the HFCS we have been consuming in everything from sodas to salad dressings is now safe. Great! So, for how many years we were consuming HFCS containing mercury?
And then Ms Erickson continues on about how safe this product is. What's her proof? Well, the FDA, of course and the designation of HFCS as GRAS in 1996. What's wrong with this picture?
What Ms. Erickson is saying is that HFCS, for several years now, has been manufactured using technology advanced enough that they can avoid mercury "contamination." It's safe; well at least now it's safe. And it has been for several years. What does "several" mean to you? Well, just for the sake of objectivity, let's get a definition from a dictionary:
Being of a number more than two or three but not many: several miles away.
Now, let's be generous. This news release came out in 2009. Several often means 2 or 3, but let's just say it means 5 here. That means that some time around 2004 (plus or minus a year or two), HFCS began being manufactured using "mercury-free reagents." Well, even with these generous parameters, that means the FDA designated HFCS as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) at a time (1996) when there was probably a 50% or greater chance that the "reagents" used to manufacture it contained mercury.
Ok, so returning to the press release...
“High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets FDA’s requirements for the use of the term ‘natural.” Erickson said.HFCS is "natural" because the FDA says so; the FDA, remember, is the same group that designated HFCS that may be "contaminated" with mercury as GRAS. And Ms Erickson states that HFCS contains nothing artificial or synthetic. The genetically modified Glucose Isomerase used in HFCS production is, according to her way of thinking, neither artificial nor synthetic. Why, HFCS doesn't even have color additives.
Just what ingredients are artificial or synthetic by these standards? And anyway, natural does not mean safe! I could start naming toxins that naturally occur, but this post is already long enough...
Alan Watt - Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury