1.27.2009

High fructose corn syrup contains mercury and other reasons I think we're going to start feeding our kids air.

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.
You can read the entire report from HealthObservatory.org or download the pdf that shows which brands were shown contaminated with mercury after a single random sampling.

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.

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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

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Update 1/28:

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.


77 Comments:

Blogger Kelly @ Wisdom Begun said...

All the junk in prepackaged foods has led us to believe that eventually, it'll catch up with our kids bodies' as well as our own. We have decided to go as all natural food-wise as possible. It is more work, I'll tell you. But I really think when it comes down to it, we as parents have our childrens' best interests at heart. Food makers do not.

1/27/09, 11:08 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Someone just responded to my retweet of your tweet about this to tell me that in Canada, HFCS is used much less frequently than in the US. Which was only party reassuring, because now I'm just freaked out that there're toxins or poison in EVERYTHING.

But in any case, you should move to Canada ;)

1/27/09, 11:08 AM  
Blogger Elisa said...

I have no faith in the safery of boxed products - not to mention the fact that most of them are empty calories (i.e. calories without actual nutrition).

So I tend to buy very little snack foods, and when I buy has to be organic and free from HFCS, GMO, etc. I was never this paranoid with food when I lived in Switzerland, where controls are stricter - and so is legislation, esp. when connected with food ingredients. But unfortunately in the US you have to become a little paranoid/obsessive, because they sneak in way too much crap.

1/27/09, 11:11 AM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

One thing that makes me slightly less freaked out about this is that the study showed pretty low levels of contamination-- in the parts per trillion category rather than parts per million. The U.S. safety threshold for mercury in fish is 1.0 per million. And even the highest mercury readings in the study were less than half of that.

BUT, when you think about how UBIQUITOUS HCFS is in most children's diets, and start adding up those low levels again and again and again, it starts to get scary. And when you realize this was a teeny, tiny study with a tiny sample size, and NO ONE is monitoring products containing HCFS regularly for mercury, well, it makes me wonder whether it isn't possible for the contamination to be much worse in some products that weren't tested.

I was already trying to limit my family's exposure to HCFS but this is making me think I might have to cut it out of our pantry altogether until a study with a larger sample size is done to more accurately determine the risk in specific products. It will be hard to find alternatives for some products, though.

I did already cook up my own vanilla-flavored simple syrup this morning to replace the chocolate syrup in my son's milk.

1/27/09, 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Colleen said...

I spent all weekend focused on the discussion I was going to have with our pediatrician about declining my son's 12 mo. vaccines (due to many concerns including the ingredients: aluminum, MSG, formaldehyde, etc.). I handled that situation yesterday and felt a bit of relief only to read this today which makes me wonder: When will it end? How do we keep our children (and ourselves) safe from chemicals and heavy metals and poisons in our food and drinks and vaccines? What do we, as parents, do about corporations who care only about profit and not the human beings who buy their products and line their pockets?

We can be vigilant but by the very definition of being parents we're busy. We only have so much time to investigate and research every item we put into our children's mouths. Not to mention the fact that organic foods are often too expensive for most families in America.

I guess all we can do is keep listening, keep reading, keep checking labels and keep each other informed via blogs, Twitter, etc. about what we find. And, we can let those corporations know, by our purchases, that we don't want and will not accdect mercury (!!!) in our granola bars.

1/27/09, 11:14 AM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

Okay I meant to type HFCS above, not HCFS. High Corn Fructose Syrup makes no sense. LOL.

1/27/09, 11:17 AM  
Blogger B said...

I am more of the "we are all responsible for our choices no matter what" category. This all just sucks but looking at that list only made me shrug. We don't have any of that crap in our house. I read a few years back in the New York times some simple rules for eating better. Two engrained themselves in me.
"Don't eat anything with more than five ingredients." And "Don't eat anything your great grandparents didn't consider food."
Those are pretty simple terms to adhere to. It also cuts out all that snack, powerbar, breakfast-on-the go shit. And for heaven sakes I can't believe people still drink soda just like I can't believe there are people out there that still smoke.

1/27/09, 11:21 AM  
Blogger RuthWells said...

Eat *minimal* processed food. Seriously. And grow your own produce in season if possible. Shop at farmers' markets. Eat much less animal protein (Americans, on average, eat more than twice as much protein daily as the body needs.)

Today I'm feeling very relieved that we de-HFCSed our pantry a few years ago.

1/27/09, 11:24 AM  
OpenID barelyknittogether said...

I, too, am sort of an "eat at your own risk" thinker. We are all pretty much taught in school what good nutrition is about, and junk/snack/refined/prepared foods are not included.
In addition, it's so hard as a mom to understand these numbers we see every day about contaminants. The problem is, we hear "mercury" and panic, because frankly, it's scary! But there are crazy things in our soil, and they are there simply because these things are part of our planet. I was a chemist and worked with radioactive materials for a time, and I got more radiation exposure playing outside for a few hours than I did in a month or more of work.
Maybe this fear is good, if it prompts us to make better choices (harder choices, really) for ourselves and our children. Grow what you can, buy local what you can't grow, and limit packaged foods. Thanks for this post!

1/27/09, 11:31 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

B, those are great quotes from Michael Pollan who wrote the Omnivore's Dilemma.I always loved the grandparents one too.

I'm impressed at how conscientious you all are. We can't grow our own foods in a Brooklyn apartment, and we do like us some processed foods here and there. But I think some of that is about to change.

1/27/09, 11:32 AM  
Blogger Surfer Jay said...

Dam...I'm allergic to sucrose so I buy Fructose in bulk....we're dead.

1/27/09, 11:33 AM  
OpenID barelyknittogether said...

Also, I meant to add that if the results are generally parts per trillion, it would take one million servings to be ingesting parts per million. So even with many thousands of servings over a lifetime, the risk is low. But I still think whole food is better :)

1/27/09, 11:33 AM  
Blogger B said...

Mom-101, thanks for linking that, I was just trying to dig it up!

1/27/09, 11:34 AM  
OpenID barelyknittogether said...

Ok, everybody, please don't hate me for over commenting. I should say that I'm no paragon of nutritional virtue. I finished off a barrel of cheese balls last night. I have been known to buy McDonald's. It's hard to be healthy in our culture!

1/27/09, 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Perri Nelson said...

Toxins in extremely low dosages work just like recreational pharmaceuticals -- The body develops a tolerance for them. Witness the thousands of people poisoned by their spouses using arsenic. In nearly all cases, the dosage began small.

By the time the murderer got frustrated enough, it required a massive dose to kill. In many cases, the victim had developed such a tolerance that a dose that would be fatal to an undosed person was a regular part of their diet.

Some regular medicines are beneficial in low doses, but otherwise poisonous. Should we start worrying about hanging out in stone buildings? Granite has a low level of radioactivity. We might all develop cancer from older skyscrapers.

I just can't get worked up about this sort of scare journalism.

1/27/09, 11:44 AM  
Blogger Jozet at Halushki said...

Great post.

I too am more of the mind to eat less and less processed foods, buy more organic (though expensive) or at least locally grown, and yes, I love the rule about don't eat anything with more than five ingredients, lol. A bit complicated to follow when I'm making homemade minestrone, but I get the general drift.

It's taken some doing...my kids were very into the pre-packaged foods. But, oddly enough, it was as my husband began the South Beach Diet and it's emphasis on staying away from refined sugars, processed foods, and white bread/rice/flour that we all started eating better and feeling better.

There is always going to be "something out there" I think. And even in small doses, the critical mass of small doses of crap adds up quickly. Sort of the same as with the "lead in toys" discussions. We can only keep trying to ferret out the bad stuff, get knowledgeable, and take time to slow down our lives enough to make food from scratch as much as possible.

Thank you for this head's up. I'm sending this blog post along to my friends and neighbors.

1/27/09, 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anne Keckler | ACSM Certified Personal Trainer said...

Caustic soda has been used for centuries to separate the corn starches from the kernel. That's how we get hominy.

1/27/09, 11:45 AM  
Blogger Hillary Dickman said...

It may be true that environmental regulations were loosened under Bush, but Obama didn't help the situation any by appointing Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. That is a slap in the face to all of the natural and organic food eaters out there who were looking forward to a Change in our ag system.

That aside, I DO think that the Libertarian idea of You're Responsible for Your Own Choices rings true here. We can choose to feed our kids prepackaged food that has a lot of crap in it -- not just mercury, which we also inject directly into our kids' bloodstreams so it must not be that bad?? Or, we can choose to feed our kids the least processed food available. The stuff that comes out of the ground, not out of a machine. With all the government has to deal with, why rely on them to regulate this, too. We have the ability to be informed consumers -- we're not a bunch of second graders. We are adults. Smart adults.

My solution to the problem of over-abundant, over-processed food was to join my local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I receive a big box of fresh, organic, local veggies every week of the 26-week growing season. I also get a dozen eggs from organic, pastured hens and a few other goodies here and there. The veggies are enough to feed my family for a week, along with a few other staples from the perimeter of the grocery store (dry beans, bread, yogurt, milk). I don't have to shop as much so I'm saving tons of money AND my kids are eating better. And liking it.

1/27/09, 11:45 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Barely Knit Together - I actually like the scientific voice of reason. I often straddle the line between "eh, everything will kill you eventually" and "ack, everything will kill us now!"

Perri, I'm not so sure it's scare journalism. We're talking about foods that a lot of young children eat while their nervous systems are still developing. Mercury isn't like aluminum. It can be deadly even in small amounts.

1/27/09, 11:57 AM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

For the people who are eating no packaged foods and growing their own organic produce or supporting a CSA, GREAT. Congratulations. However, please keep in mind that not every family has the money, time, space, etc. that you do. Single mothers working 50 hours a week may not have time to cook everything from scratch. Different families have different circumstances. Saying "we are all responsible for our choices no matter what" oversimplifies the issue and insults a lot of people who are trying really hard to do the best for their children under difficult circumstances. I'm sure you didn't mean it that way, B, but that's how it will sound to some.

Yes, we should all try to eat more fresh, home-cooked food. But those who can't should not have to worry that the food industry will literally POISON their children. We need to change the way food is made in this country, and a good first step to doing that is to start caring about other people who may not be able to make the same choices the rest of us can.

I've had to learn the hard way that parents don't always have as much control over their kid's diets as they would like. First, by being a child in a household where at times my mother was grateful to have any food to give us at all. Second, by having a child with a developmental disorder who was such a picky eater he starved himself almost to the point of needing a feeding tube despite being surrounded by healthy food.

People can't be held responsible for not making choices they never really had. But corporations CAN be held responsible for making the choice to ignore known dangers of the products they sell.

1/27/09, 12:09 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

I love you Jaelithe.

Again.

1/27/09, 12:11 PM  
Blogger Musings of a Housewife said...

I am not an all-natural crunchy gal by ANY stretch of the imagination, but I've been avoiding HFCS (as well as PHOs) for a few years now. Yes, stop buying Yoohoos and Pop Tarts. They're gross and have no nutritional value.

I say that knowing that I'm inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst. Example: I do buy sodas. I know it's bad. I love my Coke Classic. I try never to have more than one a day, but I know that's too much.

I also try not to let my kids have it ever. I prefer gingerale or rootbeer, but that's probably only marginally better. Still, it's a treat, not every day.

Juice is also a treat. Milk and water is all we have usually. And OJ.

But truly, when you start going down that list (BBQ sauce - PULLEEEZE!) it IS almost impossible to avoid this junk. And it's truly disheartening. I don't know the answer, but one thing is for sure. We need to take a stand. EVERYTHING marketed for kids has HFCS. We go down that aisle in the grocery store and I have to tell my kids no to graham crackers. It's appalling. Those "fruit" snacks? Horrible. They rot your teeth too. I refuse to buy them.

We keep goldfish around (the whole grain ones) and pretzels and I do buy granola bars, but I know I shouldn't. My poor kids, they want to know why all the other kids get "good snacks".

And the other thing to watch? BREAD. Yep, bread. Arnolds is the best for no HFCS.

Okay, sorry, rant over.

1/27/09, 12:16 PM  
Blogger Russ, Anna and Pepper said...

This is why we try so hard to give our family natural, unprocessed foods. It is just too easy for all that junk to get in and no one to notice or even care!!!!

1/27/09, 12:20 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

It seems there are very few foods (if any) that are 100% safe and sure to never, ever hurt anyone in any way. Stay educated and consume all things in moderation and you'll likely be fine. IMO, these alarmist reports stir people up when the risk is negligible.

1/27/09, 12:23 PM  
Blogger Mr Lady said...

I am all for "Nothing is 100% safe" and I am that mom that doesn't use anti-bacterial stuff, lets her kids eat a little bit of dirt if they must, firmly believes that normal, healthy children's bodies can and should develop tolerances to the things in the air and soil around them, and thinks candy is just fine in moderation.

However, let's remember that when we were kids, not so many things HAD hfcs in them. We don't need it, in ANYTHING. We CAN live without it. It's simple supply and demand. We stop buying it, they'll stop making it. Period.

I like what B said. Don't eat anything your grandparent's wouldn't have considered food. That's pretty awesome.

1/27/09, 12:38 PM  
Blogger Motherhood Uncensored said...

I find it interesting that all of a sudden we're making all these discoveries, along with the BPA and whatever else is out there - and we wonder why sensory disorders, autism, ADHD, and food allergies are on the rise.

It's not scare journalism, it's a little bit a truth coming out. Finally. We couldn't say anything again because our country is entrenched in the corn industry.

And god forbid we say something bad about milk -- more of those damn "Got Milk" campaigns.

I don't think it's paranoia to think that much of what we eat is not as safe as we'd hope. Unfortunately, we can't all grow shit in our backyards or apartments, so the government needs to do a better job.

But then again, what else is new?

1/27/09, 12:38 PM  
Blogger Cloud said...

I love your blog, and always click over to see any new post. But I have to disagree with you on this one.

I was curious, so I went to look at the actual study. They are reporting mercury levels in parts per TRILLION. The FDA sets a limit of 1 part per MILLION on fish, and the EPA sets a limit of 2 parts per BILLION on drinking water. Even the highest levels found in this report are well below either of these limits.

I think the reason that the FDA hasn't done anything about the mercury in HFCS is that it is at levels so low that they are unlikely to be harmful.

I know a lot of people don't trust the FDA and EPA, but I trust them more than some "research institute" I've never heard of that self-publishes a report rather than submitting it to the peer-reviewed literature. I also know that the scientists at the FDA and the EPA have training in the relevant fields, because the government has hiring standards. I have no such knowledge about the MD who is lead author on this report. He may be an expert with years of research experience. Or he may be a brand new MD who has never done a lick of research in his life. A medical degree is not necessarily training in scientific research. And if he wants me, as a scientist, to take his report seriously, he'd submit it for peer review.

If people want to avoid HFCS and eat more natural food- great. I don't think anything that showed up on this institute's list is going to be a great nutritional loss to anyone. But I also don't think it is worth getting too worked up over.

Also, remember natural does not automatically equal safe. There are many things in the natural world that will do you a lot more harm than trace amounts of mercury in your morning breakfast bar.

1/27/09, 12:45 PM  
Anonymous whimsicalwalney said...

While not HFCS-related, this post reminded me that people need to add Balsamic Vinegar to the list of foods to avoid too. It contains lead. Because of CA Prop 65 there are signs in most grocery stores, but not often in other states.

1/27/09, 12:48 PM  
Blogger tara said...

shoot, i used to be such a good CSA-buying, farmers market-going, organic-supporting, not-so-processed-anything eater ... and then i got pregnant and the only things i've been able to keep down have been pop tarts and doritos. i figured any calories were better than none. THANKS for this warning. it is high time to get my tummy out of this nausea-fog and start paying attention to something other than cravings again.

1/27/09, 12:52 PM  
OpenID gisarah said...

as long as I've been obsessing over food, I've been buying less and less from the supermarket, to the point where I (a freelancing mama to three who is currently so broke I'm wondering how I'll afford toilet paper) am making nearly everything at home, have banned "snack food" entirely (we eat dried fruit, hazelnuts I buy in enormous quantities from farmer's market and roast myself so they're cheaper, and lots and lots of bread, butter and honey), bake about half of the bread we eat, and have slowly eliminated nearly every non-organic ingredient. I have to make a lot of sacrifices; we don't go out to eat (b/c we can't afford it), we don't do music lessons or karate or soccer club, we don't travel, we bike/bus instead of drive. I've been growing more of our food, though I get lots from the farmer's market and the co-op. even though I'm making pretty lux choices -- nearly all local, really good meats and cheeses, etc. -- my food budget is generally below-average for a family of my size.

but my family isn't "safe." my six-year-old goes to his school for kids with developmental issues and, because he won't take a lunch, eats the absolute crap our nation has decided to serve kids in schools. my husband grew up on junk food and it still holds a mighty sway over him -- sugar is addictive! -- and when we're broke he insists on buying 'broke food' -- cheap "soft" bread packed with preservatives and HFCS, ramen, etc. (while I beg him to just buy me a bag of organic flour ;). my three-year-old's preschool offers snacks every day and I know they're usually choices I wouldn't make.

the best was one day my six-year-old came home, telling me there had been an assembly where they tried to convince kids not to eat junk food, convincing them of how great healthy choices were. he had a temper fit during lunch and it came home with him (it was a half-day). in addition to the sandwich (which the teachers tell me themselves none of their kids ever eat) was a pack of HFCS-packed fruit snacks and a little plastic-wrapped cup of cucumber slices that were SO spoiled they were slimy and smelled so badly our chickens wouldn't even eat them. make healthy choices, kids.

anyway. I'm rambling. I've chosen to go without HFCS for probably a decade, now, and I keep waiting for others to stand up and say, "it's enough!" so we can scrap our insane processed-corn-based food economy, and I keep hoping that the latest news scare will get enough people riled up, and it seems that none of them do. I mean, tainted peanut butter in organic CLIF bars? mercury in oatmeal? why aren't we angrier? I know people work and they can't all cook their own food. but maybe we should all agree that it's time to start working less for the good of some corporation who's only trying to spend as little as they can making our products while spending beaucoup marketing dollars to convince us they care and start working more for the good of our kids.

easier to say than do. but worth thinking about.

1/27/09, 12:54 PM  
Anonymous cin said...

To be more healthy IN GENERAL I have been gradually converting my families diet to be more natural and meat free. Now I have even more incentive.

1/27/09, 1:04 PM  
Blogger Cloud said...

I was still curious (and apparently bored with the work I'm supposed to be doing), so I looked up the scientific paper referenced by the report (http://www.ehjournal.net/content/pdf/1476-069x-8-2.pdf). The conclusions in that paper are far less inflammatory that those in the report- merely stating that this should be considered as a source of mercury in children and other "sensitive populations" (e.g., pregnant women).

I also did the math, using the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's report:

They found 350 parts per trillion mercury in an oatmeal bar. I looked that up- it is a 60 g bar. So that is 0.00000021 g mercury/bar.

The EPA exposure limit, which they set with pregnant women in mind (http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0073.htm) is 0.0000001 g/kg per day. A 150 lb woman is about 68 kg- which means that she would need to eat more than 30 of these oatmeal bars/day to reach the limit. Even if you consider that a pregnant woman may be eating several different foods on this list AND eating fish- I don't think the likely risk warrants the panicky tone of the report.

And now I have to get back to work! I know my opinion is in the minority here, but I hate to see science used in this way. It is stirring up fear that is far beyond the conclusions warranted by the actual research. I think this sort of thing dilutes the value of science in setting policy. If every result is "sold" as showing a catastrophe in the making, then we are desensitized to the harmful things about which the science is far more clear- like the crud in the air in most cities.

1/27/09, 1:33 PM  
Blogger Wicked Step Mom said...

You know what I have to say about this... thank goodness for allergies to preservatives. We eat almost all organic food and have almost no prepackaged treats in the house. It is because I am so allergic to preservatives they could kill me.

1/27/09, 1:52 PM  
Blogger KayleighJeanne said...

We can rest easy when it comes to mercury. The FDA is even recommending that pregnant women eat more fish.

I'm sure they are completely trustworthy and have our best interests in mind, right? (Yeah, like I'd believe that.)

1/27/09, 1:54 PM  
Blogger Juli Ryan said...

There is almost no HFCS or GM in New Zealand. And we're another household with allergies, so we don't get to have a lot of pre-packaged foods. It took a while to get in the swing of making everything ourselves. But it's a comfort too, knowing EXACTLY what is in the food you are eating.

1/27/09, 2:29 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Jaelithe-- thanks for saying this. The consumerist slogan of choice almost always oversimplifies issues like this one by assuming that everyone enters the marketplace on equal footing.

1/27/09, 2:39 PM  
Blogger Cloud said...

@KayleighJeanne- I want to ask a question, which is meant respectfully and not intended to be snarky:

Why do you trust a report from a relatively unknown institute more than you trust government scientists?

I think the FDA is revisiting the guidance on fish eating by pregnant women because of the latest science indicates that omega-3s are very beneficial for the developing baby's brain, and fish are the easiest way for people to get sufficient omega-3s. Why do you assume there is something sinister going on?

This is something that has puzzled me for a while, on many issues that flare up in mommyblogs. Why does everyone assume that government scientists are distorting the truth/ignoring evidence/whatever the latest charge is?

In the case we're discussing here, why do people assume that the report from the unknown institute is correct and that its conclusions are justified? We don't know anything about the motives of this institute- they may be funded by the cane sugar industry and out to discredit a competitor, for all we know. We know about the lobbying that occurs at government agencies, and there are policies and procedures in place to try to ensure that it does not unduly influence the pronouncements from those agencies.

No, I don't take every statement from a government agency as true. But I don't take every report issued by some policy institute as true, either. And I really don't think government scientists are conspiring with the food industry to trick me into poisoning my children with mercury.

1/27/09, 2:57 PM  
Blogger Sarita Pagita said...

As a scientist myself I'd have to say that Cloudy has succinctly summed up the proper interpretation of these findings. Yes, we could (and should) all eat better, but it is important to look at all of the data and not just react to the headlines. I have found that the general media does a very poor job of conveying scientific information to the public, but I guess an article entitled "HFCS Contains As Much Mercury as Organically Grown Carrots" just isn't as sexy.

1/27/09, 3:09 PM  
Blogger Nadine said...

I'm not sure if HFCS is used in The Netherlands, but I do recognize quite a few of the products mentioned.

For me it's another reason to buy whole foods or at least foods of which I am familiar with all the ingredients.

"In Defense Of Food" is a great book on this topic.

1/27/09, 3:16 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

Oh, sweet heavens, not chocolate syrup! Take my oatmeal, take my jam, take my cola, but leave me my chocolate syrup. Mama needs a sugar fix!

As for what I will do, I don't know. I try to buy fewer packaged and processed foods in general, and this will likely strengthen my resolve. At least for a while. I am also eager to hear what the companies and processors have to say about this.

1/27/09, 3:22 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Cloud, was just about to thank you for your very smart and thoughtful perspective - then saw your second comment so I figure I'll hit that one.

I think that a lot of people believe that "government scientists are distorting the truth/ignoring evidence" specifically because...well, they have. With the dangers of BPA, with red dye, heck, with the air I breathed for months after 9/11 that the EPA declared all safe and clear and hunky dory!

I'm definitely not a conspiracy theorist or a germaphobe. I microwave my foods and I don't wash the pacifiers nearly enough. I won't use antibacterial soap and I subscribe to the five second rule of eating food off the floor.

But over the past 8 years in particular I have become increasingly skeptical of government agencies run by industry lobbyists and regulatory groups who seem to drop the ball consistently. It's not a mommyblog thing - I hear news like this from all sorts of family members and friends.

Is this study perfectly scientific and conclusive? Absolutely not. But it opens to door for us all to make ourselves more informed consumers.

1/27/09, 3:24 PM  
Blogger Cloud said...

@Mom101- Thank you for answering my question. I guess the answer doesn't surprise me, but it does make me a bit sad, as a scientist (who doesn't work for the government, by the way). I don't see the BPA issue and the post 9/11 EPA air quality announcement the same way you do.

In the post 9/11 case- I blame Christine Todd Whitmann (a political appointee) for speaking beyond what the science could hope to support. There was no way they could have had scientific studies that were directly relevant to such an unprecedented event. I doubt Ms. Whitman really understood that. This is one of the (many) reasons I'm greatly heartened to see Pres. Obama putting people with scientific knowledge in positions of power.

As for the BPA thing- even though all the major manufacturers have caved, I still don't think the issue is settled from a scientific standpoint. It got really big around the time my daughter was entering day care, and I had bottles with BPA in them. The damning report that people kept forwarding to me was another one from an institute I'd never heard of, with conclusions that didn't seem to match the data. So another scientist mom and I went and dug up all the research papers we could find on the subject and we read them. We came down on the side of keeping our BPA-containing bottles. People assume that because all the bottles are BPA free now, the science was settled. It wasn't. The manufacturers just decided it wasn't worth the trouble to argue anymore. Which is all well and good, until you think about whether or not the plastic they use in place of BPA has been tested in similar studies. It probably hasn't.

During the BPA debate, I kept hearing people point to the fact that the Europeans had outlawed it. But their regulatory agencies are just as prone to lobbying as ours are, and I don't really want Greenpeace lobbyists making policy anymore than I want industry lobbyists making policy. I guess I just wish that the instinctive distrust that people seem to have for US government scientists could also be extended to activists working for institutes that we haven't heard of before. Scientists in general don't mind defending their results- doing so is part of the scientific culture. But it is wrong to only ask one group of scientists to do this and to assume another group is right. If you aren't equally skeptical of both sides, then you aren't letting science guide your policy opinions, you are letting your policy opinions choose your science. That is exactly what former Pres. Bush did, and it is no less troublesome when it comes from environmentalists.

I'm sorry to hijack your comments on this topic. As I said, i love your blog and I don't think there is anything wrong with you posting about studies that concern you, wherever they come from. Believe it or not, I am a left-leaning environmentalist who buys organic milk and meat (to avoid antibiotics) and was as righteously angry as any other mother about the lead in toys from China. I'm just tired of reading "scientific reports" that read more like horror stories than actual science, and this one hit me on a day when I was inclined to comment. I think these studies do more harm than good. Making good parenting decisions is hard enough without policy institutes using scare tactics to make me worry about whatever their pet issue is.

1/27/09, 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

On a slightly related note -- everyone keeps talking about "growing their own" and I realize that most people won't.

BUT, if you do, please have your soil tested first! In many older neighborhoods, your soil can be very heavily contaminated with lead and it will get into your vegetables.

That still leaves container gardening!

1/27/09, 4:40 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Cloud, yours is a welcome voice here. Thank you.

1/27/09, 4:57 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

I mean, ideally we'd feed them all natural, whole foods and such, but with our lives? Sometimes convenience rules, if we are honest, and we hope we are not taking a chance by, oh, say, FEEDING our kids, but then stuff like this comes along. My daughter loves strawberry yoghurt and oatmeal, both are staples for her, both are on that list. FAB. Granted, tis sampling is by no means conclusive in terms of those brands always having mercury and others not, but it sure makes you pause. I mean, who even considers yoghurt a trashy convenience food? How to avoid this stuff completely? I just don't know. Yikes.

1/27/09, 4:59 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

Can we just take a moment to thank the sweet baby Jesus that wine doesn't contain HFCS or mercury?

Amen.

/wiseass-ness

;)

1/27/09, 5:49 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/27/09, 5:59 PM  
Anonymous Carol @SheLives said...

Trusting the government to make our health a priority is laughable. Not with all the PACs and lobbyists for the big food manufacturers securely pocketing the politicians and other government officials.

Mercury, lead, aluminum, floride...they're all heavy metals and they all, over the long haul, endanger our health. Those low levels are cumulative because our bodies do not excrete heavy metals. They just store up and store up.

Ever notice the dramatic rise in autism, asthma, Alzheimer's, anxiety disorders, allergies...? And that's just the A list.

The answer - Go as natural as possible. What's wrong with cooking from scratch? Other than the inconvenience, I mean?

1/27/09, 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Lucinda said...

There certainly is a certain amount of personal responsibility in terms of eating well and avoiding highly processed foods.

But HFCS shows up in areas where it didn't used to be when we were kids and where you don't expect. Look at the condiments in your refrigerator. Most will have it. Any snack crackers--Wheat thins, etc? I'm not talking the Cheezits. I'm talking about "healthy" crackers. Bread? Yup. Peanut Butter? Check.

With HFCS being so pervasive, unless you make all your own condiments, bake your own bread, and don't buy ANY snack items, you will find it in your cupboards. Most people simply don't have that kind of time. Say what you want, but cooking from scratch and eating well, even when it's part of your regular routine, is time-intensive and requires planning.

That is why studies like this leave me so frustrated with our food industry. Thanks for the info.

1/27/09, 6:04 PM  
Blogger Cloud said...

@Carol- I am not necessarily saying that you should trust the politicians in government to make your health a priority. They have pretty bad form on that, and a lot of our policy is just insane.

I am saying that in most cases, you can trust the scientists who work for the government to make decisions based on scientific evidence, not politics or fear (from either side of the political spectrum). It is their job to do so, there are procedures in place to protect them from the lobbyists, PACs, etc., and there are quite a few examples of scientists speaking up, at risk to their careers, when they think the politicians are distorting the science.

And if you don't trust them, in most cases you can read their work for yourself- the government scientists almost always publish their work, and if something isn't published, you could use the freedom of information act to see it.

1/27/09, 6:21 PM  
Blogger itgeek said...

Just a random tip on bread... Milton's Bread does NOT contain HFCS. I just checked their site and it looks to be available across the country and in a variety of stores.

1/27/09, 6:38 PM  
Blogger itgeek said...

Sorry, I really should have said "across the US" instead of "across the country." Sorry to be vague.

1/27/09, 6:48 PM  
Blogger Tracey said...

Air sounds like a good alternative. Less fattening, too...

1/27/09, 6:56 PM  
Anonymous chris said...

I already have one kid that I swear photosynthesizes. Instead of being annoyed perhpas I should start thinking that she is onto something.

1/27/09, 7:10 PM  
Blogger Elaine A. said...

I just read "Skinny B!tch", which opened my eyes to the MAJOR corruption that goes on in the food production/farming industry in this country.

And now I am reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kinsolver about her family's journey of growing their own food for a year and my eyes are even WIDER.

I think an alarming percentage of what is in your regular grocery store these days is terribly bad for us all.

Those foods, coupled with the soda craze and fast food in general are the MAIN reasons this country has such a horrible obesity problem.

As for me and my family... we are reforming. Can you tell? ; )

1/27/09, 7:59 PM  
Anonymous Johnathan Reale said...

I've gotta thank Cloud for letting me take the day off here. Good to have someone sticking up for scientific principles. Additional thanks for revisiting the BPA issue. I wish the bottle manufacturers had shown the cojones that Quaker did. Fear can transform people into a bullying mob, and caving to such bullying only makes it all the more likely that the mob will be back. "And that is called paying the Dane-geld..."

I would suggest that anyone wondering why the hell industry uses high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar do some research on the topic. Keep an eye out for the phrases "unintended consequences" and "regulatory capture".

1/27/09, 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Jane said...

First, the FDA only actually test maybe 20% of what they regulate. They rely on the ACTUAL COMPANIES to report their findings to them, then they make a decision. Second, HFCS has been deemed "bad" for a long time. It's not caveat emptor. For me it is making the best, informed decisions for my kids. And it is HARD. Especially on a budget. I don't feel I can trust the FDA, not after the last 8 years. The recent ads by the HFCS people have made me so angry. And this is where I need to stop, so I don't go all crazy on your blog. Also, consider window boxes for a few veggies. You can do it!

1/27/09, 8:08 PM  
Anonymous another researcher said...

Cloud - THANK YOU!!

I teach several psychology courses to about 300 college students, and if they learn NOTHING else in my classes, I want them to leave with the knowledge that 1) causation does not equal correlation and, to go along with the current topic, that 2) the media warps "scientific" and actual scientific research conclusions in any and every way possible. I want them to really LOOK at the studies strewn all over the news, consider the sources, and draw their own informed conclusions. Thank you for doing this so beautifully here, while also recognizing the need to ask the important questions of our politicians and our lobbyists.

1/27/09, 8:24 PM  
Anonymous anita ovolina said...

Wish we could go all natural - but some of us can't. I have five children and while we try to go natural and organic as much as we can it's tough and I would like to think that there is some accountability for the products I feed my children.
Or, I'll just move back to Italy....

1/27/09, 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Fleurzty said...

My husband and I used to eat natural and organic foods alone, but it has gotten more and more expensive to do so. Now, we only get our baby organic food. We're trying to keep him away from the chemicals in foods as long as we can. It is scary what they have in food out there.

1/27/09, 10:44 PM  
Blogger Hillary Dickman said...

Preach it, Gisarah! I'm with you! I think eating natural food from scratch is be cheaper than eating packaged crap and it is certainly better for us. Yes, it takes more of an effort, but if our farming grandmothers did it, I'm sure we can, too. Now...if we could only convince our public schools of the same.

1/27/09, 11:53 PM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

Having gotten over my queasiness regarding public health standards during my undergrad studies (# of insect wings allowed per 10 oz jar of peanut butter, for example), I also learned what you just can't mess around with - and mercury is at the top of the list.

Good to hear from Quaker! Now can Hershey tell me whether the chocolate syrup Tacy put on her ice cream tonight is safe?

1/28/09, 12:18 AM  
Blogger Cloud said...

aw shucks, @Jonathan Beale and @another researcher- thanks for noticing.

And thanks, Mom-101 for posting Quaker's response. That shows class beyond what a lot of bloggers have, which is one of the reasons I like to read your blog.

And @itgeek, I had to laugh at your Milton's bread endorsement. One of the hardest things for my Kiwi hubby to get used to when he moved here was how sweet our bread is. He finally settled on Milton's as the least sweet of the brands he could find. Then our toddler decided to exist on a primarily bread diet, so we pulled out the bread maker we got for our wedding.hu

1/28/09, 12:45 AM  
Anonymous Johnathan Reale said...

Replying to point 4 in your 1/28 update: Preferring market solutions to regulatory solutions doesn't require one to believe that the market solutions are perfect, only that they are better than the alternatives. Dismissing market solutions because not all buyers have equal incomes, education, and information would be as fair as dismissing governmental solutions because not all voters have equal motives, stakes in the outcome, and access to power.

1/28/09, 1:11 PM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

Whoa! Go Liz!

I'm pretty vigilant when it comes to HFCS anyway. I'm a total food hippie and don't really trust processed foods to begin with. I'm sure my kids will hate me when they get older but fuck it. It's food and we put it in our bodies and we should all be paying attention to what that means, where it comes from. I think we've become too passive as consumers/eaters/drinkers imho.

At any rate, this information is awesome. Spread the gospel, pretty lady. Spread it far and wide.

1/28/09, 2:11 PM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

Re #4 in your update:

I have GOT to write the post I've been toying with writing, about the book Fat Land and all the history behind HFCS and fast food and the gov't and private sector roles, particularly as these relate to lower-income urban areas and mounting health issues. Suffice it to say, there's plenty of problems perpetrated by both sides, and the solution isn't going to be one or the other - regulation or market forces.

I used to be very much of the mind that market solutions were the ideal resolution to such problems. Learning more about the system - gov't, business, the interaction between the two - I've realized that pure market solutions aren't even feasible, let alone "solutions". The reality is far different than the ideal.

1/28/09, 2:40 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Agree, #4 in your update is right on. Love your liberal values!

1/28/09, 9:41 PM  
Blogger sweatpantsmom said...

So alarming. I just fed my kids at least two of those things on your list.

I agree with you - I guess vigilance is our only answer. And let me know if you come up with that chocolate-milkshake-flavored air recipe.

1/29/09, 4:01 AM  
Anonymous Dana said...

It's nice to see such a civil discussion. You always want to keep your kids as safe as you can,but trusting the media interpretation of these studies is probably going to worry you more than help anything. Cloud's comments are very true, also I'm hopeful to see what will happen in the next few years with actual scientific evidence having more say in FDA and other governmental rulings. We've had a lot of non-science based influences and decisions for a while now, maybe people will start to feel more like they can trust FDA statements in the future if they earn some trust back.

1/29/09, 3:56 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

Thanks for this!

1/29/09, 4:15 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

It is utterly unbelievable how many things contain HFCS that you'd never expect. I just found it in YOGURT the other day. Jesus, it sucks how closely we have to read labels these days on anything that's the slightest bit processed.
As for growing your own food. We actually are. We have started a large organic garden that we are preparing to open up as a community project. It's been amazing to have our own tomatoes, beans, peppers etc. I know this isn't an option for everyone, but this is what I have been driven to by the state of the food industry in the US. No wonder my kid won't eat.

1/30/09, 1:26 PM  
Blogger Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting said...

It isn't a surprise to me. I've been saying FOR YEARS this was going to go down, and hard, like this.

We've been guinea pigs for decades, using this additive to make it last longer, or this preservative to make it stay on the shelf for decades. This coloring here, this protectant there. This flavoring to make it taste like butter, when we could've used butter, but were too cheap to use real butter..

UGH! STOP! You know? When our kids were going bonkers and couldn't control themselves, we knew there was a problem. And then we found Feingold.org, and learned alllll about what its doing to our kids.

We moved in July - to a new state, new post (we're military) new everything. And we were always pretty healthy. Here? The water is HORRIBLE. My skin, scalp, quality of life here, total suck. Can't get ANYTHING clean. We've had boil water notices many times. Love it. And by love it I mean, hate.every.second. In the meantime, I'm going to do what I can, to cook what I can, using bottled water while we're here, and hope I don't grow plants with eyeballs or something in the dirt outside come spring.

1/30/09, 5:10 PM  
Blogger Mrs Mo said...

This post was staggering and shocking, but it doesn't surprise me either!

I was disturbed that my favorite high fiber yogurt (Fiber One) has HFCS as it's 2nd ingredient. How can that be healthy for you?! So I'm going to try and do plain or greek.

I've been more conscious to limit the HFCS I eat and will try my best to give my daughter and future children natural foods (if we can afford it). But there is only so much we can do or avoid.

1/31/09, 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rule of thumb: Anything foreign that enters our body, other than what comes from the earth itself un-manipulated, is grounds for major concern, whether it be via injection, food... We can't control the air we breath, but we can control what we put into our bodies.

I think the next couple of years will be very enlightening for everyone - the truth (finally!!) is slowly leaking out on everything from food, to immunizations to toxins in toys and we will find ourselves trying to catch up with fixing all the damage/guilty.

2/3/09, 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Get over it !! said...

What about the hormones they inject cattle and puoltry with? The manuer is then used to fertilize all of our veggies. Either way nothing in this world is pure anymore. GET OVER IT!

6/16/09, 6:03 PM  
Blogger hondo3777 said...

Chef Hymie Grande (www.chefhymiegrande.com ) is the first and only bottled BBQ sauce to carry the seal of the American Diabetes Association on the label. It has no high fructose corn syrup, no processed sugar, it is all natural and vegan friendly. It is produced at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgton, NJ by Jamie Failtelson, a.k.a. Chef Hymie Grande of Carlstadt, NJ. 5% of proceeds go to the American Diabetes Association.

1/12/10, 10:59 AM  
Blogger Black Swan said...

BBQ with NO CORN SYRUP.
Black Swan just introduced two new clean gourmet BBQ sauces made with cane sugar. They are some of the only BBQ sauces, eben at Whole Foods, that have No Corn Syrup. Check it out: www.BlackSwanCompany.com

12/1/10, 12:01 PM  

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