Update: Scroll down for official response from Quaker. The other brands? Radio silence.
I just finished reading this post about high fructose corn syrup containing mercury (thanks Kalyn) and hot on the heels of the peanut butter recalls I am just about ready to throw up my hands in disgust and vow to start growing our own foods.
Although considering all the loosened environmental protections under Bush, American soil is probably a disaster too. Maybe I need to invent a way to make filtered air taste like chocolate milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches.
If this sounds all nutty to you–because it certainly does to me–The Ethicurean explains it all easy and simple-like:
How did the heavy metal get in there? In making HFCS — that “natural” sweetener, as the Corn Refiners Associaton likes to call it — caustic soda is one ingredient used to separate corn starch from the corn kernel. Apparently most caustic soda for years has been produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants, where it can be contaminated with mercury that it passes on to the HFCS, and then to consumers.
A snapshot of the top of the list: Quaker Oatmeal to Go, Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Sauce, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup (oh no!!). Further down, everything from Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly to Coke Classic were revealed to have detectable levels of mercury in it. Mercury is toxic in all its forms.
This is madness.
Before we start storming the Quaker headquarters with pitchforks and torches, I want to say I can’t imagine that these reputable brands will be anything but appalled by the findings. I’m interested to see how they respond in the coming days and weeks. But presumably the HFCS industry knows about this despite their “it’s just corn!” ads, as Kristen points out. Is there any accountability there?
And more personally, I want to know how we even deal with this as parents. Do we stop buying Pop-Tarts and Yoo-Hoo because one sample contained small levels of mercury? Do we throw caution to the wind and hope that the FDA actually is looking out for our health? Do we call on congress to protect us despite the fact that sometimes those protections fall flat and hurt the wrong people? Or is this a big old caveat emptor-slash-libertarian situation where we are all responsible for our choices no matter what?
I’d love to know what you think.
It’s just so hard to ask questions about the food we give our kids when we don’t even know that there are questions to be asking.
I guess I just don’t look at the foods in our pantry and think, hm, I wonder if any of these contain FREAKING MERCURY.
Update: Just received this official response from Quaker’s Candace Mueller. Huge props for uber social media responsiveness:
We have been following and reading your statements today regarding the recently published Environmental Health study on mercury levels in high fructose corn syrup.
We can confidently say that, yes, Quaker products are safe and continue to meet the high standards for quality and safety that you have come to know and expect from us for more than 130 years.
Based on our initial observations of the Environmental Health study, we are concerned that the methodology and assumptions relied on in the study are critically flawed and that their purported findings are insufficient to support their claims and to warrant alarm.
In that study, traces of mercury are recorded as parts per trillion. This is over 1,000 times more stringent than suggested food industry standards of parts per billion. In fact, public watch-dog Center for Science in the Public Interest‘s Michael Jacobson was recently quoted [in this article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune] as saying the study should be viewed in context with products testing at levels 30 to 3,000 times less than the amount of mercury found in fish and seafood.
We understand that consumers will still have questions and concerns, and we invite anyone to contact us by calling our toll-free hotline at 1-800-367-6287 or on Twitter @QuakerTalk.
Also, another good article at The Chicago Tribune
I think you must all be about the thoughtful, smartest commenters on the planet – opinionated but never offensive. And not one “I know you are but what am I.” I guess where I’m coming out on all this after a day of thought and consideration of all sides:
1. I’m going to read more labels more carefully. There are so many good alternatives to HFCS that we’re going to avoid it where we can, particularly for my kids.
2. I’m not going to start giving up an occasional Coke or testing my kids for mercury poisoning every week. I appreciate that the amounts found in these products were minute.
3. I still remain vigilant that there should be no mercury in high fructose corn syrup when there are so many alternatives and when the HFCS plants have alternate methods of production. As one of the study’s authors said, “This seems like an avoidable source of mercury.”
4. I just can’t buy the “buyer beware” school of thought entirely. That presumes all “buyers” have the same level of income, education and information, let alone access to healthy alternatives. (Oops, there go my liberal values again.)
5. I think this bears further study. The researchers are onto something and I’m not going to dismiss it outright. I suppose the results are not the end, just the beginning.