The Mercury Menace in Your Cupboard? - Oceana USA
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January 27, 2009

The Mercury Menace in Your Cupboard?

BY: kim

If you had asked me last week whether a breakfast of Quaker “Oatmeal to Go” and cocoa made with Hershey’s chocolate syrup on a cold winter morning would potentially expose me to mercury, I would have said “Of course not! Everyone knows fish are the primary source of mercury exposure”. But according to a study published yesterday by doctors at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and reported in the press, mercury has been detected not only in those breakfast products, and also in many other popular foods purchased in 2008 by such makers as Coca Cola, Kraft and Smuckers.*The source of mercury in these sweet food products is apparently high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) made using chlorine and caustic products from mercury-based chlorine factories, according to a companion study published yesterday in the peer- reviewed journal, Environmental Health. However, the researchers noted that not all HFCS is made using these mercury contaminated products, (mercury was detected in roughly one third of HFCS and products tested) so consumers are left in the dark when trying to protect their families from this mercury source. While the Corn Refiners Association says it has not used mercury based reagents for several years, the popular foods tested for mercury were purchased in 2008. As the mercury scientist for the Stop Seafood Contamination campaign, I pride myself in knowing which fish are low mercury and high in omegas to feed my family to keep our mercury exposure low and enjoy seafood’s benefits. What I did not count on was this insidious mercury exposure from everyday food products like Yoplait yogurt and Nutri-Gain strawberry cereal bars.* While the form of mercury in these sweet products is likely different than the organic methylmercury in fish, average Americans may be dosing themselves with more mercury from HFCS than they get from fish, if following EPA dietary guidelines. What is especially troubling is that Americans, many of them young with still-developing nervous systems, who eat foods loaded with HFCS are taking a completely unnecessary gamble. Food companies do not need to use mercury contaminated products, since over 95% of chlorine and caustic manufacture in the U.S. is made with modern mercury-free technology. Oceana has been campaigning to stop mercury releases from this industry to keep it out of our fish. Now we need to work to keep this needless mercury out of our grocery cabinet, too — Please join us in this effort by taking action today. * See Table 3 and appendix tables in the IATP report.[Kim Warner is a marine scientist at Oceana.]