Found this article by Karl Haro von Mogel dismissing the mercury in high fructose corn syrup story via Free Vermont. There are some interesting differences between what it is says and what the mainstream press are writing.
I took a look at the paper, and the first thing that I noticed was that it was not a peer-reviewed study. So this has not passed through the rigors of experimentation, review, re-testing if needed, and publication in a scientific journal.
The Chicago Tribune says:
The study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health.
Oddly enough, another critical of the review that von Mogel also calls the paper peer-reviewed.
The ‘study’ itself consisted of taking samples of foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup and testing them for levels of mercury. Those foods and the brands that made them were in the report, and they found that some of the foods had detectable levels of mercury in them. What levels? Parts per trillion. These are really low levels. Drinking water has a limit of 2 parts per billion, which means that you can have 100 times as much mercury in drinking water as is in these foods. The tap water you use to make your oatmeal might have more mercury than the oatmeal itself.
Chicago Tribune again:
There is no established safe dose for elemental mercury, the type discovered in corn syrup. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an average-sized woman should limit her exposure to 5.5 micrograms a day of methylmercury, the kind found in fish. If that same woman regularly ate corn syrup contaminated at the highest level detected in the study—0.57 micrograms per gram—the researchers estimated that she could end up consuming an amount of mercury that is five times higher than the EPA’s safe dose.
This is interesting because it looks like the Tribune is deliberately confusing elemental mercury with methylmercury – two very different things. But it does give us a different look at the numbers – .57 micrograms per gram, rather than the difficult to understand parts per measurement. If I’m not mistaken, 2 ppb is 2 micrograms per liter.
Wikianswers suggests 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day. So the average person probably consumes no more than 4 micrograms of mercury from drinking water per day. That means you’d have to eat 8 grams of HFCS per day to consume the same amount of mercury.
According to Wikipedia the average American consumed 28.4 kg in 2005. Which works out to about 78 grams a day. Which sounds like a hell of a lot – am I doing the math right on that one?
If so, it means the average American could eat ten times as much mercury through HFCS than water (assuming, drastically, they are eating the worst mercury containing products). This of course is on top of water and methylmercury containing fish.
The rest of von Mogel’s article looks at the problem of the lack of controls. A very worthwhile criticism. But the report clearly says they need to do more research, and that points to the real story the FDA were warned about the potential mercury content in HFCS and did nothing. It would be unwise to conclude too much from this study other than the FDA declined to do their job.
Update: Turns out von Mogel was referring to a different paper than was referenced here recently.