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Each year, Americans consume hundreds of food products that contain truly dangerous compounds, including heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful additives—with the blessing of the FDA. Why is this happening and why haven’t you heard about it? In Unsafe at Any Meal, Dr. Renee Dufault, former food investigator for the Food and Drug Administration, provides the startling answers. While at the FDA, Dr. Dufault discovered that mercury—a highly toxic metal—was contaminating the plumbing systems of many food manufacturing plants. Upon further examination, she discovered that the same mercury was also evident in a number of processed foods commonly sold in supermarkets. When Dr. Dufault revealed these disturbing findings to her superiors, she was told to stop her investigation. Her continued efforts to raise the issue always met with a dead end, so she chose to take an early retirement from the FDA. Dr. Dufault then devoted her energy to making the public aware of the insidious dangers that contaminate our food. In 2010, she founded an organization of scientists to study the scope of this problem and has published numerous research articles on the topic with little fanfare. To expose what still seems to be a well-kept secret by the FDA, she has written Unsafe at Any Meal to provide consumers with the information they need to know.

The book begins with the author’s story leading up to the creation of this work. It then describes the various toxic substances that are most commonly found in our food supply, and explains how they affect your genes, health, and the surrounding environment. After examining the Standard American Diet, which is sorely lacking in disease-preventing nutrients, it discusses the country’s trend toward consuming a skyrocketing amount of ingredients that can contain heavy metals. It further shows how exposure to these heavy metals can contribute to conditions such as ADHD or autism. Also included is a helpful guide to reading food labels, recognizing misleading marketing tactics, and knowing what to look for—and what to look out for—in the aisles of your grocery store.

Over fifty years ago, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring exposed the dangers of DDT in our food supply. Unfortunately, it seems that the problem of food contamination has actually become worse. Backed by research and first-hand experience, Dr. Dufault reveals how the FDA has failed us, and outlines how you can protect yourself and your family by knowing what to avoid and by filling your kitchen with food that is clear of toxins.

Dr. Renee Joy Dufault
Author Bio

Dr. Renee Joy Dufault became a medical laboratory specialist when she joined the U.S. Army in 1976. Following her four-year service, she went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning at the University of California at Davis. She then served in the Navy for two years as an Industrial Hygiene Officer, before transferring to the Public Health Service (PHS), where she served as an Environmental Health Officer. During her fourteen years at the PHS, she worked at the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration, where she provided expertise in the areas of toxicology, environmental health, and industrial hygiene. Since her retirement, Dr. Dufault went on to earn a doctorate in Health Education. In addition, she is the founding Executive Director of the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute (FIHRI), and, as such, collaborates with scientists worldwide to conduct studies and publish papers focused on the many toxic substances still contained in our present food supply. A popular world-wide speaker, Dr. Dufault has had numerous articles published in peer-reviewed journals. She currently resides in Hawaii.

Table of contents


Foreword by Steven G. Gilbert


1. Introduction to Toxic Substances
2. Genes and Your Health
3. Pesticides and Adult-Onset Diseases
4. Ingredients that Add Heavy Metals to Your Body
5. Western Diet and Disease
6. Spotlight on Autism and ADHD
7. Food Labeling Practices
8. Creating a Safe Food Environment at Home


About the Author

Review text - Publishers Weekly

"Dufault, a former Food and Drug Administration investigator, criticizes the levels of mercury and other chemicals present in commonly consumed foods. She portrays a federal food safety system rife with ineffective regulations and practices that have left an unknowing American public vulnerable to food contaminants. Citing both her own research and others' studies, Dufault contends that the consumption of these contaminants, mainly through processed foods, contributes to the prevalence of common American illnesses. Dufault is scathing about food labeling that omits mentions of mercury, arsenic, or other contaminants that can be found in foods as a result of production. She cites the addition of mercury-containing chemicals to high-fructose corn syrup to regulate acidity and increase shelf life. Moreover, she argues that exposure to even government-allowed amounts of contaminants can impact gene regulation and function and contribute to disease. To combat these dangers, Dufault prescribes a diet low in processed foods and high in organic food, vitamins, and nutrients. Her work leaves readers with a disquieting picture of current American food safety standards."

Review Quote - Library Journal

"Previously working for the National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dufault offers an illuminating perspective on food safety in America, presenting the information in an easy-to-understand manner and providing definitions where necessary for laypeople. Chapters cover a variety of topics ranging from genetics and adult-onset diseases and pesticides and heavy metals to Western diets and the FDA's food labeling practices."

Review Quote - Midwest Book Review ("Cowper's Bookshelf")

"Each year, Americans consume hundreds of food products that contain truly dangerous compounds, including heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful additives - with the blessing of the FDA. Why is this happening and why haven't you heard about it? In Unsafe at Any Meal, Dr. Renee Dufault, former food investigator for the Food and Drug Administration, provides the startling answers . . . [it] warns readers about commonly eaten foods that can possess heavy metals (such as lead or mercury, the consumption of which can contribute to conditions such as ADHD or autism), explains food labeling in plain terms, offers guidelines for a nutritionally balanced diet, and much more. Extensive references and an index round out this 'must-have' for health-conscious consumers. Highly recommended!"

Review Quote - Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients

"Written in clear and understandable language, Unsafe at Any Meal begins by telling Dr. Dufault's story. It then describes all of the heavy metals and toxic chemicals found in our present food supply and how each can impact our health. Just as important, it offers practical suggestions on how to avoid these foods in our daily diet . . . I hope that, as healthcare professionals, you will grasp the opportunity to read this groundbreaking book, which may hold the answers to why we remain in the midst of such a devastating national health crisis."

Review Quote - IndieReader

"Alarmingly relevant . . . [a] former environmental health officer for the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration, [author] Dufault's intimate understanding of the U.S. food regulatory system and its consequences for human health make her an ideal guide for understanding . . . Dufault emphasizes the role that mercury and other toxins play in human physiology . . . look[s] at the corrosive relationship between government regulators and the food industry. Especially useful are [Dufault's] comparison between the U.S. and European food agencies . . . Drawing on government reports, public health data, and nonprofit research organizations (including her own, the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute), Unsafe at Any Meal is a clear and well-researched alarm bell . . . a solid introductory text to the many problems of the modern American food system."

Review Quote - Price-Pottenger Journal (Vol. 41, No. 4) / Winter 2017-18

"Unsafe at Any Meal is a unique and convincing contribution to the field of nutrition science and to the discussion on the industrialization and politicization of the food supply. While most books on this topic address the importance of avoiding toxic metals and pesticides, Dufault goes one giant step further and takes the reader on an investigative journey to uncover exactly how these substances get in our food, where they are lurking, and what the latest research reveals that they do over time . . . Even if you already eat a whole-foods, organic diet, there is much new and critical information to be found here."

Review Quote - Environmental Health News (EHN)

"[Dufault's] book is a sobering read, but Dufault does an admirable job making pesticide data and gene expression grippingly relevant. If you're wondering why we're not paying more attention to food supply and regulation as chronic disease conditions and healthcare costs skyrocket, this is a summer read for you."

Review Quote - P.S. Annie! Blog

"Makes a very compelling case regarding the Standard American Diet (SAD) and how it can lead to autism, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), and Alzheimer's disease. It even appears that it may be possible to reverse some of the effects of those conditions by changing our diet . . . well-written and not too academic . . . we think it is an important book . . . should be made required reading for all high school students. A few hundred congressmen should also read this book."

Review Quote - Dr. Ronald Hoffman, MD, renowned physician and longtime host of the "Intelligent Medicine" radio show/podcast

"Dr. Dufault is a worthy successor to [Ralph] Nader as an industry insider blowing the lid off the food industry's dark secrets . . . the unique reveal in Unsafe at Any Meal is the pervasiveness of mercury in our foods . . . Dufault fingers high-fructose corn syrup as a Trojan Horse for an even more insidious toxin: mercury . . . What's the solution? Dufault is skeptical of lobbying for more stringent environmental regulations and food safety rules after the brush-off she received from the FDA. Instead, she calls for us to vote with our consumer dollars by purchasing locally-sourced, organic foods, minimally processed, and free of additives. Her mission is to make us aware of what we're putting into our mouths. Thus forewarned, we can protect ourselves and our families."

Excerpt from book


This book is a long time coming but not overdue. The state of research is now at a point where I could write it with confidence. Many individuals have contributed to the mercury research, either directly or indirectly, or helped to disseminate the results in one way or another through the years. I would like to thank all of the following individuals for doing their part:

Blaise LeBlanc, Ed Rau, Boyd Haley, Sree Kumar, Chuck Cornett, Alex and Lyudmila Romanyukha, Chad Mitchell, Bill Walsh, Walter Lukiw, Matt Amann, Don Demers, Martha Boss, Dennis Day, Art Dungan, Isaac Pessah, Peter Green, David Krabbenhoft, Cynthia Harris, Barry Lai, Roseanne Schnoll, Laura Schweitzer, David Wallinga, Fred and Alice Ottoboni, Jane Hightower, Lyn Patrick, Rao Ivaturi, Steven Gilbert, Raquel Crider, Leah Woodke, Amanda Hitt, Melinda Wenner, Scott Laster, Martha Herbert, Katsi Cook, David Carpenter, Matt Pamuku, Skip Kingston, Marcia Zimmerman, Daniele Pisanello, Ted Levine, David and Jamie Fletcher, Tom Devine, The Buss Family, Ivan Royster, Mari Eggers, Maureen Swanson, Marissa McInnis, Zara Berg, Erica Newland, Twila Martin-Kekahbah, Larry Wetsit, Wayne Two Bulls, Mesay Mulugeta Wolle, GM Mizanur Rahman, Alika Maunakea, Dan Laks, and the Fort Peck Community College (FPCC) students who participated in the recent clinical trial that focused on the prevention of type 2 diabetes through the elimination of toxic substances from the diet and increased intake of whole, healthy foods.

Thank you also to my editor, Caroline Smith, a talented writer, who helped me organize the contents of the book to make it easier for the public to read, and Rudy Shur, my publisher and friend, who believed in me from the very start and is committed to helping me get this information out to the public.

Introduction or preface


We understand both more and less about the impact of what we eat on our health and well-being. There are several problems that cloud our vision and inhibit useful action. First, there has never been adequate research on understanding our basic nutritional needs. Furthermore, national nutritional guidelines are affected by food industry and political consideration.

Second, the farm government subsidy program influences the prices of the food we eat. For example, subsiding grain and corn makes the production of beef less expensive and sweetened beverages cheaper.

Third, the mass production and distribution of food results in the use of more chemicals such as pesticides, preservatives, and other additives, that contaminate our food supply. The health effects of some of these chemicals have been studied, but in most cases we lack basic research on the effects of these chemicals from conception through adulthood and aging.

Fourth, we have become increasingly aware that kids are not little adults and that their developing organ systems are more vulnerable to industrial chemicals. In addition, kids eat more, breathe more, and drink more per body weight than adults, which mean they are both exposed to more chemicals and receive a greater dose than adults.

Fifth, there is a complex regulatory structure that attempts to ensure the safety and adequacy of the food supply but suffers from lack of funding while being buffeted by the competing interests of consumers, industry, and politics.

Finally, the greatest challenge is empowering consumers with adequate knowledge and motivation to make choices that protect and promote the health and well-being of not only their families, but also the greater environment. Even more salient is how to protect our children and ensure they have access to food that allows them to reach and maintain their full potential.

The essence of Renee Dufault’s book Unsafe at Any Meal is captured in the subtitle “What Consumers Must Know to Protect Their Families.” An admirable element of this book is that it is grounded in science and extensively referenced. If you want more details or background information, the references listed in the back of the book provide a starting point. This book does a fantastic job of connecting the dots between the science and everyday actions that can be taken to apply what you have learned. I hope every reader takes this information to heart and follows the guidelines in Chapter 8. The relentless focus on what we are eating and what’s in what we are eating is essential to making changes in our diet and improving our health.

Clearly after reading this book, the conclusion has to be that the underlying science is complicated. However, Renee provides essential guidance and offers simple ways to alter your diet to reduce chemical and heavy metal exposures that will most certainly improve your and your family’s health. I hope after reading this book and examining your diet that you have started on a journey that will lead to better health and a more sustainable environment.

Dr. Steven G. Gilbert, Ph.D., DABT, is a leading researcher in the field of toxicology. He is the director and founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders based in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Gilbert serves as a director on a number of non-profit organization boards to include among others the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Introduction or preface


It took nearly ten years, but a connection has finally been made between eating processed food and inorganic mercury exposure. A team of researchers and I analyzed thirteen years of data and conducted a clinical trial in which human subjects reduced their intake of processed foods. We found they had lower inorganic blood mercury levels compared with subjects who did not significantly reduce their processed food intake. In other words, we simply demonstrated that eating processed foods contributes to higher inorganic blood mercury levels. This means the more processed food you eat, the higher your inorganic blood mercury levels will be.

Why should you care? Inorganic mercury exposure can make you more prone to disease—for example, inorganic mercury exposure increases your risk of type 2 diabetes by causing your blood sugar level to rise. How does this happen? Inorganic mercury or other toxic substance exposure can lead to essential mineral losses and gene dysfunction. When certain genes are not working properly, your body metabolism changes. Changes in body metabolism can result in the development of type 2 diabetes or other diseases associated with the Western diet. What you eat determines how your genes behave. That is why you need access to a food supply that is not contaminated with inorganic mercury or other toxic substances. In writing this book, I hope to teach you the difference between a safe and unsafe food supply.

It is my belief that a safe food supply should not contain inorganic mercury or any other toxic element that has been shown to impact human health. I am not alone in this belief. For example, my view on inorganic mercury in the food supply is consistent with that on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommends eliminating all mercury exposures from the child’s environment, including from the diet. The AAP also recommends removing certain mercury-containing food colors from a hyperactive or inattentive child’s diet. I agree with these recommendations! Mercury is a neurotoxin and has no place in our children’s diets, despite the fact that it has been found in the most common food ingredient in the food supply by both American and Canadian researchers.

There are many stakeholders involved in the food distribution system, and all have differing views on the safety of the food supply. Grocery manufacturers and food distributors are primarily concerned with extending product shelf life and increasing profits, while consumers are more concerned about food quality from a safety and health standpoint. Controversy surrounds foods grown with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or with pesticides. This is why a growing number of consumers want their food labeled; they want to know what they are buying. In response to consumer demands, many grocery manufacturers are now voluntarily labeling food products with or without GMOs and pesticides. It is important to understand that consumers in some countries outside of the United States do not have to worry about the safety of their food supply because their governments have more power to regulate what goes into their food supply.

Some countries outside of the U.S. have banned the sale of grains grown with GMO seeds. This is because some of the science-based evidence tells us that growing GMO crops may lead to adverse environmental or human health impacts.6 It is too early to determine if GMO crops are safe. Scientists cannot reach a consensus on the safety of foods grown with GMO technology. What I do know is that in banning the sale of grains grown from GMO seeds, countries are taking a precautionary approach. It is better to be safe than sorry, because interpreting science-based evidence is tricky no matter what food or food ingredient we talk about. In the U.S., we do not take this precautionary approach in regulating the use of chemicals, GMO seeds, or food ingredients. The European Union (EU), on the other hand, does take a precautionary approach in regulating chemicals, including those used to make food ingredients.

For example, in EU countries, the use of certain food color ingredients must be accompanied with a warning label to consumers. Some food colors are even banned from use in food in these countries. These food colors are so heavily regulated because studies have shown these colors may cause hyperactivity in children. It is important for you to understand there is inequality among countries in the treatment of food safety issues and the regulation of food ingredients. This indirectly impacts disease prevalence.

The purpose of this book is to shed some light on the issues related to food safety in the U.S. and elsewhere. It is my belief that every consumer has a right to learn what is known or not known about the safety of our food supply. If you are a parent, this knowledge is especially important for the health of your children. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is comprised of many unsafe food ingredients that impact the way your genes function, leading to the development of common Western diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. I am writing this book because there is a need to educate consumers about the quality of the food supply so they can make the best decisions for their families when they are shopping for food at the grocery store. In this book, I take an inside look at the food manufacturing industry’s practices and history, and how these have shaped our diets and health today. It is my hope that you will join me in the pursuit of an honest food regulation industry and a safe food supply.

Food safety is a problem for most families in the United States, rich or poor, whether they know it or not. I know this for a fact because I have studied the SAD extensively, published my findings with collaborators in peer-reviewed medical journals, and for many years worked at the agency responsible for food safety in the U.S.—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Introduction or preface


This book is about creating a food supply in your home that is safe and free of toxic substances. These toxic substances include heavy metals (such as mercury) and pesticides. Using scientific research and my own experiences, I illustrate how such substances (as well as our diets in general) are contributing to Western diseases like diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and more. Most of the public has no idea that the food they eat may contain these substances because of loopholes in the laws, misleading food product labels, and faulty risk assessment processes. I know this because of the research I conducted—and then was ordered to stop conducting—during my time as an employee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

I transferred to the FDA in 1999 as a Public Health Service (PHS) officer from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). My job at both the EPA and FDA involved the identification, assessment, mitigation, and cleanup of toxic elements left behind on nlaboratory surfaces, in laboratory hood and ventilation systems, biosafety cabinets, and plumbing systems in research laboratories undergoing closure. At that time, my training and background was in environmental health and industrial hygiene. This means I was qualified to identify, assess, and control physical, chemical, biological, or other environmental hazards in the workplace or community that could cause injury or disease. While doing my job at the FDA, my collaborators and I kept finding mercury in the plumbing systems of laboratories undergoing closure. We wondered where it came from.

Fortunately, my supervisor at the FDA gave me permission to determine the source of the mercury contamination in the plumbing systems. During my investigation, I uncovered the unsettling fact that many laboratory chemicals contain mercury residue. When mercury is part of a molecular compound or in its elemental form, it is heavier than water and tends to settle at low points in plumbing systems. Before environmental regulations were developed by the EPA for the disposal of hazardous waste, researchers just poured waste chemicals down the laboratory drains and the mercury settled in the sink traps and sumps. This is the reason why we kept finding mercury in the plumbing systems of the laboratories undergoing closure at FDA. You may wonder how the mercury residue got into the laboratory chemicals in the first place. I did, too.


I consulted with my peers working in the environmental field and asked if they knew how the mercury residue ended up in the laboratory chemicals. I interviewed a colleague at the EPA and found out the chlor-alkali chemical companies reported missing several tons of mercury from their manufacturing process every year to the EPA. (Chlor-alkali is a chemical process used to manufacture many industrial substances.)

In 2000, the twelve mercury cell chlor-alkali plants in operation at the time reported to EPA that there were approximately 65 tons of missing mercury altogether. This amount was the difference between how much mercury the plants used and how much mercury the plants released into the environment or disposed of. The chemicals manufactured by the chlor-alkali plants were often the same ones used by FDA research laboratories.

My EPA colleague informed me that there was only one mercury cell chlor-alkali chemical company that had provided the EPA with information on where their missing mercury went. Out of the nine mercury cell chlor-alkali chemical companies operating in 2004, Vulcan Chemical was the only one in the United States to achieve its goal of finding its missing mercury. Vulcan Chemical knew exactly how much mercury went into their manufacturing processes to make chlorine, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, and potassium hydroxide chemical products, and where the mercury ended up. I suspected much of it ended up in the chemical products that the FDA and other researchers used in their laboratories, but needed to investigate further to see if my hunch was correct. I figured it would be best to go to the source, and so I telephoned Vulcan Chemical. No one was available to talk with me. I left a message for management staff, but they did not return my call.

The Vulcan Chemical mercury cell chlor-alkali manufacturing plant was located in Wisconsin, and I knew the company would have been required to comply with state environmental laws pertaining to toxic substance releases in wastewater and air. I submitted a request to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for information regarding the missing mercury from the Vulcan Chemical plant. The exact amounts were provided to me in an email from a wastewater specialist in the Wastewater Permits and Pretreatment Section. Vulcan Chemical had provided this information to the DNR as part of their wastewater discharge permit application. The information is provided below:

Missing Mercury (Hg) Found in Vulcan Chemical Products in 1999

Chlorine (Cl). 1 lb Hg/year.

Sodium Hydroxide/caustic soda (NaOH). 6 lb Hg/year.

Hydrochloric Acid/muriatic acid (HCl). 11 lb Hg/year.

• Potassium Hydroxide/potash (KOH). 11 lb Hg/year.

As you can see, 1 pound of the missing mercury was found in the chlorine product, 6 pounds were found in the sodium hydroxide, and 11 pounds were found in both the hydrochloric acid and the potassium hydroxide. I realized at this point that mercury residue would probably be found in all chemical products produced by the mercury cell chlor-alkali industry. Since the mercury was missing from this industry, obviously no one had been keeping track of it. This fact alarmed me greatly because mercury is known to be extremely toxic among public health professionals. It is a neurotoxin, which by definition interferes with brain development. What if the missing mercury ended up in products consumed by children? I knew the American Academy of Pediatrics had published a paper recommending the elimination of all mercury exposure from our children’s environment. The question that came to my mind was: Who else uses these mercury cell chemical products, besides scientists working in research laboratories?

I didn’t have to look far for an answer to this question. It was lurking on the Vulcan Chemical website. Mercury-grade sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid were chemicals used primarily by the food color, citric acid, and high fructose corn syrup industries. Why would manufacturers use these mercury-containing chemicals to make food ingredients? Maybe the corn syrup manufacturers would talk with me. After all, I worked at the FDA.


The only corn refiner I could find who was willing to speak with me was the manager of an “organic” high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) manufacturing plant. The gentleman informed me that while the HFCS industry used both mercury cell sodium hydroxide and membrane grade sodium hydroxide in their manufacturing process to lengthen and enhance product shelf life, the mercury cell sodium hydroxide was preferred when it was available. I asked him if I could send out an FDA field investigator to collect samples of HFCS for mercury analysis and he said yes, as long as I agreed to keep his identity confidential. He was alarmed at the possibility there could be mercury residue in his product as a result of using mercury cell sodium hydroxide in his manufacturing process and wanted to be cooperative.

I was alarmed that mercury cell sodium hydroxide was even allowed to be used in the HFCS manufacturing process in the first place. That year (2004), Americans were consuming 36 pounds of HFCS per person, which seemed like a lot of sweetener to me— especially when the substance could be contaminated with mercury. I contacted someone at the Chlorine Institute, the trade association that represented the chlor-alkali chemical manufacturers, to find out why food manufacturers could buy and use their mercury cell chemical products.

The president of the Chlorine Institute at the time, Art Dungan, was most cooperative and provided me with information on the allowable levels of mercury in “food grade” chlor-alkali chemicals. He explained the amount of mercury residue in mercury cell chloralkali products varies, depending on the manufacturing process at each plant. Manufacturers of mercury cell chlor-alkali chemicals are required to provide information regarding the amount of mercury found in their products on their product specification sheets. Mr. Dungan explained the allowable levels of mercury and lead in food grade chemicals are established by the Food Chemicals Codex, the internationally recognized food ingredient safety standards, now owned and published by U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (otherwise known as the USP).

After doing some digging, I learned the USP was founded in 1820, long before the FDA, and is essentially the trade association for the pharmaceutical industry. According to the Vulcan Chemical web page, the two largest purchasers of its mercury cell chlor-alkali chemicals were the pharmaceutical and high fructose corn syrup manufacturers! It appeared to me that mercury residue was purposely being added to both medicines and food ingredients. Why? What do food and medicine have in common?

Further research revealed mercury has historically been used as a biocide in medicines designed to kill germs or other pathogenic organisms, and as a pesticide in chemical products designed for killing mold on seeds and grains. In medicine, it was incorporated in de-worming agents, teething powders, and diaper rash creams. Prior to being taken off the market, Mercurochrome (an antiseptic containing mercury) was used routinely to treat sore throats and prevent infection in wounds. In fungicides, mercury was an element used in agents designed to kill mold in and on grains. Mercury compounds were used extensively in agriculture and in food production.

The purpose of using mercury cell chlor-alkali chemicals to manufacture food ingredients is clear to me now. It makes sense that mercury residue in any food ingredient would kill mold and bacteria and lengthen product shelf life. The longer a product stays fresh on the grocery shelf without spoiling, the better for food manufacturers because product losses are minimized and profits are maximized, increasing net earnings. I became increasingly aware of how many food products contained high fructose corn syrup. I still could not believe mercury-containing chlor-alkali chemicals were intentionally being added to HFCS during the manufacturing process to enhance product shelf life. I wondered if HFCS manufacturers were touting their food ingredient’s ability to prevent food product spoilage by killing bacteria or mold.

A quick visit to the Corn Refiner Association’s web page revealed high fructose corn syrup was indeed being marketed as an ingredient capable of enhancing product shelf life by “creating freshness,” or allowing manufactures to produce foods that stay fresh. After viewing manufacturer’s and distributor’s websites, I read about how HFCS could be added to bread to “prevent mold.” Some websites even touted the ingredient’s use as a preservative. It was not approved by FDA for use as a preservative. How much mercury was in this ingredient, anyway?

To find out, I asked an FDA field investigator to visit a number of high fructose corn syrup manufacturers and collect samples for analysis. These samples were sent to a researcher’s laboratory at a different agency that had analytical equipment that could detect the lowest levels of mercury; they were then placed in cold storage for safekeeping. I obtained another set of samples directly from the manufacturers and sent them to an analytical chemistry lab at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and a University of California laboratory for analyses. The researchers at NIST analyzed the HFCS samples and found trace amounts of mercury in all of them, as did the researchers who analyzed the samples at the University of California laboratory. It was time to report my findings to the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). The University of California researcher sat in at the meeting with CFSAN staff and together, we reported the findings. To my amazement, after the meeting, I was ordered by senior FDA management to stop my investigation. Later, when I tried to publish the findings provided to me in an official report by the researchers at NIST, I was informed by FDA management staff that I could not use the results in the official NIST report because they were not meant for “public distribution.”

It became increasingly clear to me that in order to finish the investigation and report the findings, I would have to retire early from the Public Health Service. As a commander in the Public Health Service, if I disobeyed the direct order to “stop investigating,” I could be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Since I would not be allowed to continue the investigation, I asked my supervisor if I could tell the researcher who was safekeeping those HFCS samples sent to him by the FDA field investigator to do whatever he wanted with them. To my relief, my supervisor said yes. I immediately made plans to retire early to continue the investigation and find out the truth about the use of mercury as a preservative in our food supply.


Since my retirement, I have continued the investigation with collaborators at research institutions and universities throughout the United States. We publish our findings in peer-reviewed medical journals. Now, I serve as the founding director and principal investigator at the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute (FIHRI), the only federally-recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the United States devoted entirely to food ingredient safety, consumer education, and research.13,14 There is no other organization in the U.S. devoted to conducting research on food ingredients, such as HFCS, that are generally recognized as safe by the FDA. There are numerous food additives and ingredients recognized as safe by the FDA in our food supply that recent research indicates are factors in the development of autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

This book is a compilation of the research findings conducted by FIHRI, U.S. government scientists, and other researchers at universities across the world, written in consumer-friendly terms. This iscombined with my knowledge and experience of working at a federal food regulation agency, the FDA. The research on food ingredients to date is science-based and the findings described for you here will guide you in creating a safe food supply for your family.

In Chapter 1, you will be introduced to the most common toxic substances that end up in our food supply. The guidelines that are used to assess the risk of such substances is problematic, and this chapter will explain why. In Chapter 2, you will learn how your genes function, their important roles in maintaining your health, and how they respond to what you eat. Chapter 3 discusses pesticide exposures in food and how they create conditions for adult-onset diseases. In Chapter 4, I will discuss food ingredients that can contain heavy metals, such as vegetable oils and corn sweeteners, and how they affect your current and future health status. Chapter 5 defines the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is sorely lacking in certain nutrients that help prevent disease.

Chapter 6 sheds light on the autism and ADHD epidemics and provides guidance to parents on what they can change in their family diet to alleviate the behaviors associated with these disorders. In Chapter 7, I will briefly outline the history of food safety regulation in the U.S. and describe the relationship between food manufacturers and the federal government. You will also learn how to read food ingredient labels so you can choose the safest products and foods to buy at the grocery store without falling for misleading claims. Finally, in Chapter 8, I will provide tips for creating and maintaining a safe food environment at home. It may seem impossible to avoid toxic substances in your food, but if you are armed with the information you need, you will find it is not so hard—and you and your family will feel healthier as a result.

By the time you are finished reading the Conclusion at the end of this book, I hope you will be able to apply what you learn to your family’s daily life and improve the quality of food you serve at your dinner table. In creating a nutritionally adequate and safe food supply for your family members, you will not only enhance their quality of life, but also improve their chances of remaining healthy during their life span.