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Mercury in my High Fructose Corn Syrup? April 24, 2009

Posted by Nora in Environmental Health.
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I’d like to give kudos to the Washington Post for their fairly well balanced evaluation of the mercury contamination of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

This news article addresses the recent Environmental Health study on mercury contamination of HFCS. To their credit, they do manage to represent the articles findings somewhat accurately, however, there are two concepts that the authors clearly state in the scientific article that this news article either disregards or mentions in passing. First is the scientists indication that this level of contamination is of concern in children and sensitive sub-populations, and the second is the clear conclusion that more research is needed to determine the extent of childhood mercury exposure through HFCS. These are two pieces of necessary information, and thus, in some sense, the news article’s representation of information is slightly misleading. On a positive note however, they provide the ATSDR website as a link for concerned citizens.

The news article does address opposing points of view, namely that of the industry. They do a good job of refuting false points of view, however, I wonder how many readers are aware of the relative standing of the scientific studies mentioned. They indicate that  the Environmental Health study was peer reviewed, and the industry funded study was not– but they do not explain the difference between the two types of studies.

In conclusion, this article does a relatively good job explaining difficult concepts to a lay audience, and though it is slightly misleading, it errs on the side of caution rather than risk– in fact, some might argue that it applies the much lauded precautionary principle. As a public health professional I can appreciate the benefits of the application of this principle when developing policy; however, application of this principle when communicating with the general public may lead to unnecessary alarm.

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