Credit: iStock / yoglimogli

Diane says bye-bye to her family's favourite snack bars after reading a report that found mercury contamination in high fructose corn syrup

Sometimes, the idea of living on a little plot of land somewhere, growing all my own food and doing all my own baking seems like the only way to avoid toxic food.

Take for example the recent peer-reviewed report published by Environmental Health, which found High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is frequently tainted with mercury. While I typically try to avoid HFCS, it can be easy to miss on an ingredients list (in Canada you need to look for the generic words glucose-fructose—and even then it’s not obviously HFCS). People who track HFCS down find that it shows up in almost anything processed and accounts for more that 40 percent of sweetener calories found in processed food. It’s so common, a typical American diet includes 40.1 pounds of HFCS per year.

Mercury in our food

According to Health Observatory, two studies recently found the presence of mercury in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The following is a partial list of the foods containing the contaminated sweetener:

  • Quaker Oatmeal to Go bars
  • Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup
  • Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce
  • Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars
  • Manwich Gold Sloppy Joe
  • Market Pantry Grape Jelly
  • Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly
  • Pop-Tarts Frosted Blueberry
  • Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup
  • Wish-Bone Western Sweet & Smooth Dressing
  • Coca-Cola Classic
  • Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt
  • Minute Maid Berry Punch
  • Yoo-hoo Chocolate Drink
  • Nesquik Chocolate Milk
  • Kemps Fat Free Chocolate Milk

No one is quite sure how much mercury we’re consuming through HFCS contamination—or even which foods it will show up in. But what is clear is the problem is completely avoidable. The process of converting corn to HFCS requires caustic soda (as well as other chemicals). The caustic soda causing the contamination is produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants that use mercury cells. Some of the mercury is lost during the process, and this is what eventually shows up in our food.

All that needs to happen to remedy the mercury problem is for food companies to switch to ingredients that come from mercury-free chlorine plants—something they can easily do. The other issue—the fact we consume a product that requires the use of caustic soda to produce—is a whole other post…

My personal solution is going to be to give up the few remaining HFCS containing foods in our diet (bye-bye, Quaker Oatmeal to-go bars). But I think I also need to do some more research into the food we eat. Especially because today’s news also contained the gem that the FDA has decided that U.S. consumers will not be getting labels that let them know if their meat or fish has been genetically modified.

So while I’m reading Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watching King Corn—so I can become better versed in what the heck is being done to the food we eat—I’m going to continue to seek out local providers of whole, unadulterated food. And I’m going to bake my own oatmeal bars.

How are you avoiding toxic food?