Thursday, January 29, 2009

Guest Blogger: Leslie Hatfield of the Green Fork blog on the FDA and Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup

There are so many good green bloggers out there I wanted to introduce you to another blogger that I really enjoy reading. Leslie Hatfield is the freelance editor of the Green Fork blog and serves as media consultant for Eat Well, a NYC-based nonprofit program which promotes the sustainable food movement and helps people find good food through their online directory of farms, restaurants and other outlets of locally-grown food. Leslie has also contributed to Edible Chesapeake and The Ethicurean.  

"Our Melamine: There’s Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the FDA Has Known for Years"

Maybe Jeremy Piven didn’t get mercury poisoning from fish at all — according to the results of this new study released by the Institute for Agriculture and Trace Policy (IATP), the actor may well have been sickened by soda or candy or anything that contains high fructose corn syrup, which, if you eat processed food in this country means, well, just about anything.

Foodies and nutritionists alike have been griping about high fructose corn syrup for years, and the industry has responded with an “astroturf” campaign and a level of secrecy generally reserved for the military officials or secret societies (see Corn Refiners’ Association president Audrae Erickson’s stonewalling performance in King Corn).

Of course, I wouldn’t want to show my hand either, if the making of my product could be described as undertaking a small “Manhattan Project” (see eye-glazing production info here). But as it turns out, the HFCS industry has been hiding some major skeletons in its closet — according to the IATP study (pdf), over 30% of products containing the substance tested positive for mercury.

What makes this news truly shocking is not just that the manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup would put consumers’ health at risk, but that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knew about the mercury in the syrup and has been sitting on this information since 2005.

Here’s the connection, according to the IATP press release (pdf) announcing the study: The IATP study comes on the heels of another study, conducted in 2005 but only recently published by the scientific journal, Environmental Health, which revealed that nearly 50 percent of commercial HFCS samples tested positive for the heavy metal. Renee Dufault, who was working for the FDA at the time, was among the 2005 study’s authors.

Here’s how the mercury gets in there, according to Janet at the Ethicurean:
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.
And here’s more from the press release:
“While the FDA had evidence that commercial HFCS was contaminated with mercury four years ago, the agency did not inform consumers, help change industry practice or conduct additional testing.”
And on why it matters:
“Mercury is toxic in all its forms,” said IATP’s David Wallinga, M.D., and a co-author in both studies. “Given how much high fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the FDA to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply.”
In China, heads might roll over a scandal like this one, at least if the country received global attention for its allowing corrupt health officials’ greasy palms come before, um, public health.

Of course, in this country, the FDA’s neck is safe. But what about the health of American consumers? Let’s see the Corn Refiner’s Association try to spin this one.
Originally posted on January 27th 2009 on the Green Fork blog.

Drum roll please:  The Corn Refiner's Association stated in a press release entitled HFCS Mercury Study Outdated; Based on Discontinued Technology, “This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance. Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years. These mercury-free re-agents perform important functions, including adjusting pH balances,” stated Audrae Erickson, President, Corn Refiners Association. “For more than 150 years, corn wet millers have been perfecting the process of refining corn to make safe ingredients for the American food supply.” The full press release can be read here.  

Not sure how that explains the results of the IATP study that found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods bought off the shelves in 2008 contained mercury. The chemical was found most commonly in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.

I think the corn has just spun off the cob.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Guest Blogger: Dennis Pacheco of on Eating Local or Risk Death?

We have a guest blogger today.  Dennis Pacheco is Web Content Coordinator for, the Web site of premier sustainability publisher Chelsea Green Publishing. Their books include Sharing the Harvest and Fresh Food from Small Spaces, and they distribute contra-farmer Joel Salatin's books (Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal and others). 

Readers of the Green Luvin' blog probably don't need another inducement to "eat local." Like Chelsea Green's audience, you're probably hip to the whole concept: support local farmers, enrich your community, connect directly with your food, avoid GMO as much as possible (Although they are difficult, if not impossible, to avoid entirely—soy products, anyone?), cut carbon emissions and reduce demand for our dwindling supplies of dirty fossil fuels, etc., etc. But just in case you're having trouble making the case with some of your less sustainability-minded friends, here's a good one: don't get really sick and possibly die.

You hear news reports all the time about Salmonella outbreaks in spinach or some other product that probably originated halfway around the country or halfway around the world, but what exactly is it?

While not always fatal, it's also not pleasant.


Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

Last Friday, the New York Times reported on the latest headline-grabbing outbreak, this time from peanut butter that originated from a plant in Georgia.

From the New York Times:

For the nation’s grocery shoppers, the list of foods that might contain salmonella-tainted peanut butter has grown so quickly that keeping up seems daunting. 

There are boxes of Valentine’s candy, frozen cookie dough and dog biscuits, chicken satay, peanut butter cups and stuffed celery. 

Many of the products are sold as supermarket brands or under lesser-known national labels, but the list also has some of the more popular snacks on the shelf, like Little Debbie sandwich crackers, Famous Amos cookies and energy snacks from Clif Bar and NutriSystems. 

The Food and Drug Administration has listed almost 130 products that have been recalled, but federal officials say the list is likely to grow as the investigation continues. The large and varied list of products points up the many layers involved in producing packaged foods.

“I don’t think we can determine how many more” products will be recalled, Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the food and drug agency, told reporters on Wednesday.

Out of 486 cases of salmonella illness reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 people have died and 107 have been hospitalized. The most recent person sickened fell ill on Jan 8. Since it takes up to three weeks for cases to be reported to the disease agency, more are expected.

Consumers who have packages of food made with peanut products should check with the manufacturer by Web site or telephone and consult the F.D.A. recall list at Anyone who is not sure about a product should not eat it, federal officials said.


The plant also produced peanut paste, a more concentrated product used in candy, crackers and many other kinds of foods. Tracking how the paste travels through the food supply can be challenging, because several companies can be involved in making the final food. For example, one manufacturer might coat the paste in chocolate and make a peanut butter cup, which is then sold to another company that mixes it into ice cream that may or may not also contain peanut butter. A grocery chain might buy that ice cream and sell it under a private label.

Volume, wide distribution and a complicated supply chain are not the only issues. Salmonella can survive for a long time in a closed container of peanut butter.

“The piece that hasn’t come out yet is that peanut butter isn’t like spinach or ground beef because it has a really long shelf life,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

So remember: eat local. Contribute to the local economy, make an impact on CO2 emissions, avoid GM foods, and greatly reduce the risk of suffering a pretty lousy fate at the hands of an industrial food supply contaminant.

Read the whole Times article here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Martin Luther King and a 7-Year-Old: Same Dream, Different World

I think this image speaks for itself...


What can you do to make this world a better place? Let me know and I will Twitter about each response as they come it. Or you can just send me a message on Twitter.  You can follow me on Twitter at @Green_Luvin.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vote Change One More Time -- For Our Food System

I think many of us agree that our food system is a mess.  Our industrial ways are destroying our environment and health.  We had hope that Obama would pick a Secretary of Agriculture that would be good for our future but that took a down turn. His choice in Tom Vilsack is bad but there appears to be a glimmer of hope, a very small one, that he might become the Secretary of Commerce as reported by the New York Daily News the other day. But to date it appears that is is all rumor. Check out my new favorite blogs, Obama Foodorama, for an explanation on why the Vilsack move is the best choice for America's food system.  I can tell you we are hoping Obama is listening. 

Now there has been a lot of talk lately that the overhaul of our food system is going to take a back burner to the economy. But as Michael Pollan and Grist's Tom Philpott argue, and I agree, investing in a new food system should be part of the economic stimulus package. Ignore it and we continue along, on our way to massive environmental and public health catastrophes. 

In a recent article entitled "Eat the Stimulus," Philpott lays out a plan to overhaul America's food system that he believes would not require a new program or major expenditure of political capital. In short, Philpott suggest that a bulk of the economic stimulus package should go to support local and regional food systems. "Reviving that infrastructure would significantly lower costs for the sort of pasture-based, sustainable meat farmers who are now badly undercut on price by large-scale, environmentally ruinous producers," writes Philpott. He also recommends a reinvestment in our school cafeterias and feed our children healthy, unprocessed food --teaching them that our food comes from the earth not a grocery store. Sounds like a great plan to me but I feel that us sustainable foodies have an uphill battle. 

One way we can try and make a difference is to be a part of the campaign. On January 16, and the Case Foundation are co-hosting an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to announce the top 10 rated ideas that have been submitted by Americans across the country. They plan on then launching a national campaign behind each idea using the collective energy of the millions of members of, MySpace, and partnering organizations to ensure that each winning idea gets the full consideration of the Obama Administration and Members of Congress.

Both Eat the View and The Who Farm have been petitioning the next president to plant an organic garden on the White House lawn.  I previously wrote about them in my post entitled "A Victory Garden at the White House?" The two groups have gotten together to put the idea on and the idea is currently (as I type) in 24th Place and needs 2861 more votes to be part of the final 10 ideas presented at the event in Washington, DC.  

The idea as stated on, Victory Garden 2.0:
Thousands of Americans and people from the around the world are asking the Obamas to lead by example on climate change, health policy, economic self-reliance, food security, and energy independence by replanting an organic food garden at the White House with the produce going to the First Kitchen and to local food pantries.

The many successes(1) of the first Victory Garden movement were the result of effective public policy, bold leadership(2) at a time of national crisis, and the commitment of millions of citizens who were ready to roll up their sleeves for the greater good.

There' s no better, more symbolic place for launching a new National Victory Garden Program than at the White House, "America’s House". There's no better, more urgent time(3) than now. And there's NOTHING that can beat the fresh taste of locally-grown, home-cooked foods.
The number one idea on is "Legalize the Medicinal and Recreational Use of Marijuana." Now I am actually in favor of this idea but I do not believe it is worthy of getting the attention that plans to put forth. There are much greater and important issues. Having a organic garden at the White House will really put the importance of our food system front and center. And then if a majority of American's follow the lead of growing their own food, our agricultural system will be forced to change without the force of the government.  

So please vote.  Voting ends at 5pm ET on January 15th. You can vote by clicking here or click on the image below.  You must register on the site but in only takes one second of your time.  If all of us vote we can definately put Victory Garden 2.o in the top 10.  Let's help make a change in our food system.