Ben Adler is an Urban Leaders Fellow at Next American City. He covered the 2008 election and Congress with a focus on the youth vote as a staff writer for Politico and previously edited CampusProgress.org, a daily online youth magazine, at the Center for American Progress.
Finding out I was allergic to corn when I was a teenager was no fun at all. Most of my diet, from Skittles to soda to ketchup, was off-limits due to the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup in sweetened and packaged food. On the bright side, I was forced to eat a less unhealthy diet and I was awakened to how corn subsidies have damaged our environment and expanded our waistlines. One thing in particular that I had to learn was that plenty of supposedly "natural" food products, such as Snapple, actually had the chemically cooked corn syrup in them.
Now it turns out that corn syrup is even worse for you than we had realized. According to a new report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (via Leslie Hatfield at The Huffington Post), 30 percent of food products containing high-fructose corn syrup that were tested contained mercury. The journal Environmental Health did a study in 2005, but only recently released, which found mercury in 50 percent of high fructose corn syrup products. Although one of the study's authors worked for the FDA at the time, the FDA did absolutely nothing.
How does the mercury get there? Caustic soda, which is produced in industrial chlorine plants, where it can be contaminated with mercury, is used to separate corn starch from the corn kernel in the production process. So, apparently you can add mercury poisoning to ground water pollution, climate change, obesity and diabetes on the list of maladies our over-production and misuse of corn causes.
I, on the other hand, will be just fine. Who knew an allergy could be such a good thing? That would have been cold comfort to my 16 year-old self, who was mocked mercilessly for drinking diet soda despite having a Y chromosome, but who's laughing now?