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Just what is your food made of, anyway? Try industrial synthesis, genetically modified mold secretions, hydrochloric acid, mercury-contaminated caustic soda, ferrocyanide… and, of course, lots of GMO corn.

If common ingredients like citric acid and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) sound normal and familiar enough that you practically conjure up an image of the flourishing orchard they were grown in then think again.

Picture instead an industrial factory, carrying out protocols developed in a lab, produced with enough winding nozzles, tanks, valves, pipes and other thinga-ma-jiggers to create a meandering and disorienting Dr. Seuss story. Because, after all, these common nearly ubiquitous ingredients dont come from where you might assume (i.e. simply, citrus fruits).

Instead, mass produced citric acid and ascorbic acid are hidden GMO ingredients that reportedly set off allergenic responses for some sensitive consumers. Further, both are known accomplices to the creation of benzene a known human carcinogen inside food and drink products alongside sodium benzoate.

Feel free to peruse these blogs and forums for complaints about citric acid from those allergic or intolerant to citric acid itself, mold & yeast and/or corn. Food intolerance to citric acid, or the components of its production, can trigger such symptoms as: stomach pain, reactions in the mouth, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, hives, dark circles under the eye and/or blotchy skin.

Nevertheless, most people are not allergic to citric acid, and have no identifiable negative effects from eating it. But it does serve as a poignant reminder that what we eat comes from food products constructed as if from tinker toys, with multiple, highly processed ingredients that virtually no one would recognize and few know anything about.

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Otto Von Bismarck famously quipped back in the 1800s that Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. But today there is an endless array of foods that would baffle or disgust consumers if they saw them made. Industrial food processes have rendered entire grocery stores filled with food products whose ingredients would be even less recognizable than the contents of sausage.
As the Globe and Mail succinctly puts it:

Citric acid occurs naturally in such fruits as limes, pineapples and gooseberries. The dry, powdered citric acid used as an industrial food additive since the early 19th century, however has a less appetizing source; it is manufactured using a mould that feeds on corn syrup glucose.

Citric acid does in fact occur naturally in citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, grapefruits in significant quantities… in fact, as a product of the Krebs Cycle, it is present in most living things. But industry would find it simply too costly and… well, simple to derive their preservative ingredient that way.

Actually, a cornered citrus market was already making this form of citric acid too expensive by the mid-to-late 19th century, making an alternative economically desirable even then. Authors Michael Mattey and Bjorn Kristiansen argue in their introduction to Citric Acid Biotechnology that the science, though important, is secondary to the economics and politics of production of citric acid.

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Instead, since the early 1900s, the black mold Aspergillus niger has been used to ferment starches to derive citric acid. In 1893, a chemist named C. Wehmer discovered that citric acid could be produced with penicillium mold and sugar. Wartime disruptions in the Italian citric acid market paved the way for full-scale industrial production, after a food chemist named James Currie discovered that Aspergillus niger was even more efficient at producing citric acid. Currie also developed new methods for fermentation, and Pfizer hired him and launched a plant in 1917 to mass produce citric acid grown from mold in a sugar medium. Curries methods were also used by Pfizer to drastically increased the production of penicillin, credited with saving countless lives.

Today, it is not only true that nearly all citric acid is made through mold fermentation with GMO corn, but that it is produced by some of the biggest of Big Ag food producers, both in the U.S. and in China.

The three biggest domestic producers of citric acid Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Tate & Lyle Americas (actually a British company) have been recently involved in suits over import duties and trade turf against Chinese firms, including Shandong TTCA Biochemistry, battling for market share in America.

Think of all the times citric acid shows up on the ingredients label in things that you or those you love eat. We already know it isnt as simple as squeezing a lemon or lime, but what the hell is it, anyway?

Judge for yourself, with a glance over this simple formula:

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THE PROCESS: How Citric Acid is Synthesized from Genetically Modified Black Mold

Citric acid production has become a refined and highly prized industrial process. Numerous scientific studies discuss revisions and improvements to the efficiency. But there are definitely some constants to this often competitive and secretive process:

After wet milling corn to separate the starch, the production of many of these ingredients then involves a bath in strong bases, where lyes are used to break down the plant material further. Sometimes this means autolysis, when yeasts or bacteria ferment the material, and other times hydrolysis is used which vary depending upon the type of additive, and the most efficient and cost effective established processes.

As with other common food ingredients, there is an ongoing issue with mercury cell technology an outdated model still used in several major chlor-alkali plants that have a known issue with mercury contamination during the application of caustic soda (to neutralize work with acids). Among hundreds of food ingredients that are potentially contaminated by mercury, studies show the three most common are high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate and, yep, citric acid.

A 2009 study published in Environmental Health analyzed the level of mercury contamination from the chlor-alkali process, resulting in numerous grabbing headlines warning about the mercury content in high fructose corn syrup. Although citric acid didnt make the news, it too is processed in the same way:

Mercury cell chlor-alkali products are used to produce thousands of other products including food ingredients such as citric acid, sodium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is used in food products to enhance shelf life. A pilot study was conducted to determine if high fructose corn syrup contains mercury, a toxic metal historically used as an anti-microbial. High fructose corn syrup samples were collected from three different manufacturers and analyzed for total mercury. The samples were found to contain levels of mercury ranging from below a detection limit of 0.005 to 0.570 micrograms mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup.

Citric Acid and Sodium Benzoate Fizz-ion: A Carcinogenic Contaminate the Soda Companies Have Known About For Decades

Academic studies emerged in the early 1990s about a potent combination of ingredients that was frequently showing up in soft drinks, sports drinks and artificially flavored citrus beverages: the presence of sodium benzoate had the known potential to break down in benzene, a known human carcinogen, when in the presence of heat, or in particular, either citric acid or ascorbic acid. Studies proved that this could happen right inside the drink containers while in transport, on store shelves or waiting for consumption in consumers homes.

Yet nothing was done about it, until the scandal reemerged in 2005 when the FDA was confronted with studies conducted by a private citizen! Numerous European studies in Germany, Belgium and elsewhere backed up the data, and things slowly began to change.
Afterwards, many diet soda brands, sports drinks and citrus-flavored beverages voluntarily removed the troubling ingredient sodium benzoate (though some laughably replaced it only with potassium benzoate, which has the same potential to create benzene).

However, many other brands have done nothing at all, and the FDA allows them to continue using this dangerous mixture of ingredients, despite clear data on the matter. Foods and drinks containing the potentially harmful combination of sodium benzoate and citric acid can STILL be commonly found on store shelves, perhaps especially with generic brands.
Heres a video covering some drinks containing it:

Start reading ingredient labels on the brands that you shop for and those you already know best to avoid and take note of just how many products contain the hidden GMO ingredient citric acid. We recommend simplifying your diet by eating fresh produce better if they are grown by someone you know/trust or are organic and foods with as few ingredients as possible.

How many times have you glossed over this seemingly natural ingredient despite the fact that it is a highly processed and synthetic food additive?


Aaron Dykes

Aaron Dykes is a co-creator of and Nutritional Anarchy, where this first appeared.