Hawthornes Mercury Mania Continues

Let me start by saying, while I am sure he wishes it did, Michael Hawthorne’s latest article on mercury has nothing to do with fish… or seafood… or even water for that matter. It has to do with corn and a study that apparently says researchers detected traces of mercury in samples of high-fructose corn syrup.

Admittedly, I know nothing about high-fructose corn syrup but I do know a little something about Hawthorne’s work and his history on the mercury issue. I know that the study he’s writing about only analyzed 20 samples. I know that Hawthorne himself tested 54 samples when he was in search of mercury in canned tuna – oh and in case you don’t remember, all of those samples came up safe.

So, for some perspective — Hawthorne is writing about his next great mercury menace based on a sample size that doesn’t even match up to the one he gathered in his scientific laboratory cubical at the Chicago Tribune. What’s more, the samples themselves were taken 4 years ago and the corn folks report that their industry has used “mercury-free versions” of the agents in question for years now-a fact he dismisses by oddly sighting the same report that the corn refiners rather succinctly explained was out of date.

It would appear that Hawthorne’s Pavlovian reaction to hearing that a study about mercury had been published is to immediately link it to fish no matter how absurd the thread. True to form, in the 10th paragraph Hawthorne notes;

  • There is no established safe dose for elemental mercury, the type discovered in corn syrup. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an average-sized woman should limit her exposure to 5.5 micrograms a day of methyl mercury, the kind found in fish.

He then goes on to write;

  • If that same woman regularly ate corn syrup contaminated at the highest level detected in the study-0.57 micrograms per gram-the researchers estimated that she could end up consuming an amount of mercury that is five times higher than the EPA’s safe dose.

Hawthorne starts off by admitting that there is no parallel or comparison between the two and that in fact they are biochemically different materials… and then goes right ahead and makes a parallel, complete with a comparison. I had a PhD tell me today that that kind of leap is literally like comparing apples to oranges.

I am sure Hawthorne, Hightower and Mahaffey (the usual cast of characters) will team up for many more high-fructose corn syrup scare stories in the coming days and perhaps in one of those tomes he can correct himself (let’s not hold our breath on that one.)

Look, let me be blunt for a minute if I can- as I mentioned I don’t know high-fructose from low-fructose from fructose-free… I don’t really even know what fructose is. The type of mercury we’re talking about is elemental mercury not methyl mercury the kind associated with seafood, so we don’t have a proverbial dog in this fight. But what we do have is an interested in seeing that writers like Hawthorne who proselytize on pet issues rather than report are exposed.