Ajinomoto’s master plan

For two decades, the glutamate industry, led by Ajinomoto Company, Inc., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintained that MSG did not cause or exacerbate brain lesions or neuroendocrine disorders. Later, no longer able to deny the relationship between MSG and brain lesions, the glutamate industry, the FDA, and the USDA changed their argument for the safety of MSG to the argument that brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders can be caused by MSG, but only in laboratory animals; and that what applies to those laboratory animals does not apply to humans. Finally, faced with growing consumer recognition that processed free glutamic acid (MSG) is causing adverse reactions in substantial numbers of people; and that the glutamate cascade is implicated in such disease conditions as addiction, stroke, epilepsy, degenerative disorders (Alzheimer's disease, ALS, and Parkinson's disease, for example), brain trauma, neuropathic pain, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression; the glutamate industry changed its strategy. Instead of having the FDA claim that essentially no one is sensitive to processed free glutamic acid (MSG), Ajinomoto and friends would agree to labeling some processed free glutamic acid (MSG), but not all processed free glutamic acid (MSG). And they would only agree to labeling processed free glutamic acid (MSG) when found in amounts that ordinarily exceeded the amounts of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) presently found in processed food.

How much processed free glutamic acid (MSG) is there in a serving of processed food? There were a number of independent analyses of canned soups done several years ago, some of which were notorious for causing MSG reactions. Most of the soups contained about .6 grams of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) per serving. None contained as much as one gram.

How much processed free glutamic acid (MSG) does it take to cause an adverse reaction? No one knows, because no one has even tried to do a systematic study that would give us a clue. We do know, however, that in a number of published reports of adverse reactions, as little as .5 grams of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) caused adverse reactions. We also know that some MSG-sensitive people react to the minute amounts of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) found in binders and fillers (such as maltodextrin and corn starch) used in some pharmaceuticals.

Nowhere is FDA/industry collaboration better illustrated than in the FDA’s determination that if identification of MSG in processed food is forced upon industry, the FDA will recommend identifying MSG on the label of a product only if more than 3 grams MSG per serving is present in a particular product.  Very clever!  All the players in this game of deception know that there’s hardly a product on the market that contains as much as 3 grams of MSG per serving.  So if, for example, one percent of the products that contain MSG contain more than 3 grams of MSG per serving, one percent of the products that contain MSG will be labeled – and 99 per cent of the products that contain MSG will not be labeled.

 

The bottom line?  MSG will continue to be used in processed food, but hardly any of it will have to be identified on labels.  There will be no benefit for consumers. 

 

This is the core of the game plan: The glutamate industry creates the fiction that essentially no one will react to less than 3 grams of MSG; and the FDA picks up the ball and breathes life into the story.

 

For glutamate-industry purpose of keeping MSG hidden in processed food, 3 grams is a perfect number.  Few, if any, products contain as much as 3 grams of MSG per serving.  Using 3 grams per serving as a cut off point for labeling, will, therefore, keep most of the MSG being used in food hidden.

And – we cannot say this too many times -- if the MSG in a product cannot easily be identified (if it is hidden), a consumer cannot easily determine if it was MSG in a product that he or she ate that caused an adverse reaction.

 

The 3 gram figure is also convenient for those who would spin half truths into lies.  The whole truth, to which neither the medical community nor the consumer is made privy, is that no study to determine the least amount of MSG needed to cause a reaction in an MSG sensitive person has ever been done.  The half truth relies on the study done by Dr. David Allen who reported that in his study of asthmatics, he found asthmatics who responded to 2.5 grams and 3 grams of monosodium glutamate.  But the fact that Allen found subjects reacting to 2.5 and 3.0 grams of MSG does not demonstrate that they would not have reacted to lesser amounts of MSG if given the chance to do so. 

 

The spin comes with the statement that there have been reports of reactions to 2.5 grams and 3 grams of monosodium glutamate, without mention of the fact that no study to determine what amounts less than 2.5 grams of MSG might precipitate adverse reactions has ever been done.

 

But the lie, or half truth if you prefer not to use the word “lie”, is worse than that, because Dr. Allen had also reported that one of his subjects had reacted to .5 grams of MSG, and the players in the game of deception do not mention that.  Just think about it.  If products with as little of .5 grams of MSG were labeled, a great deal of the MSG in processed food would be exposed.  There would, however, still be some – less than .5 grams per serving – that would be hidden.

 

We have never seen it suggested that products containing more than .5 gram of MSG should be labeled.  Instead, industry’s answer to dealing with evidence that .5 grams of MSG per serving could trigger an asthmatic reaction was to discredit the .5 gram figure.  It would appear that the International Glutamate Technical Committee hired Dr. Ronald Simon and Dr. Donald Stevenson who were colleagues, and ostensibly friends, of Dr. Allen, to discredit that part of his work that pointed to the .5 gram figure.  They didn’t point their fingers at the research that said that 2.5grams and 3.0 grams of monosodium glutamate were asthma triggers. That’s understandable, because those numbers had turned out to be convenient to industry.  They only pointed to the .5 gram figure (from the same study as the other figures) as being flawed.  Detail of the Allen, Simon, Stevenson story will be found elsewhere on this web site.

 

The glutes have been perfecting their labeling scenario for years, and the FDA has cooperated with them at every turn.  It would appear that the report of the “independent study” handed to the FDA by FASEB in 1994 was rejected by the IGTC (and therefore rejected by the FDA) because the subject of labeling had not been adequately addressed.  Indeed, the report of that FASEB study published by the FDA in 1995 set the stage for labeling, reading in part:

 

“Despite the fragmented and limited data available, the Expert Panel concluded that there appears to be a subgroup of as yet not fully characterized asthmatic patients that may respond to oral challenges of doses of MSG that exceed 2.5 g per challenge”. 

Apparently prompted by a law suit filed in Federal Court on August 29, 1995, the FDA initiated an action that –if turned into a proposed regulation and then enacted -- that would keep processed free glutamic acid that occurs in food as a consequence of manufacture (MSG) hidden in food while the FDA pretended to protect consumers from inadvertently ingesting levels of MSG that could cause adverse reactions. The FDA’s vehicle was a two part, nine page Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) published September 12, 1996 in the Federal Register (pages 48102-48110). In the ANPR, the FDA called for comments on whether the FDA should establish labeling requirements to alert MSG-intolerant consumers to the presence of free glutamate in food, and whether the agency should establish formal criteria for the use of claims about the absence of MSG.

The ANPR itself bears witness to the FDA's lack of good faith as it pretends to be concerned that the needs of MSG-sensitive consumers should be addressed. It is full of half-truths and misinformation as well as literally false statements. In addition, it failed to include a great deal of information relevant to any consideration of the toxicity of MSG. That such a document should have been published is a disservice to the American people and a disgrace to this nation.

Labeling recommendations put forth by the FDA in the ANPR rested on the out and out lie spawned by the glutamate industry and the FDA that the scientific literature clearly demonstrates that MSG-reactions do not occur following ingestion of less than 3 grams of MSG.  That issue was discussed above.  In addition, it should be pointed out that given that the label of Accent brand monosodium glutamate says that one serving of pure monosodium glutamate is .5 grams of monosodium glutamate (of which a lesser amount would be MSG); and that 6 ounce servings of canned soups, which are common MSG-reaction triggers, each generally contain approximately .6 grams of MSG, it becomes immediately obvious that by using 3 grams as a basis for labeling, most MSG would remain hidden, and labeling some MSG but not all MSG would cause more confusion than benefit to consumers.

In Proposal 2 of the ANPR, the FDA recommended that the regulations then (and now) on the books (although not enforced) prohibiting manufacturers from claiming "no MSG" on labels of foods that contain any form of MSG be changed. Easy, you say? Surely, cracking down on offenders and manufacturers will stop this illegal labeling practice. Easy, says the FDA. Change the regulations to make it legal for a product with as much as .2 grams of MSG per serving in it to claim that the product contains no MSG.

Please note that the ANPR was not a proposed rule. It is an announcement asking for comments on whether there should be a proposed rule. Since the Docket (96N-0244) was never closed, input to the ANPR was never evaluated. With the Court's decision to defer to the FDA on the matter of labeling MSG, the FDA dropped much of its pretense of considering labeling. According to conversation with Dockets Management on January 5, 2009, the ANPR was withdrawn in 2004.

Has the FDA actually proposed labeling processed free glutamic acid (MSG)? No, they have not. In 1996 the FDA issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which talked about possibly proposing labeling of some processed free glutamic acid (MSG). They did that because they were being sued, and, it would appear, they wanted to pretend they were doing something about labeling. They did that so they could tell legislators who inquired about labeling that the FDA was thinking about labeling. They did that with the hope that no one would notice that while it is true that "...oral ingestion of 3 or more grams (g) of [the ingredient] monosodium glutamate (MSG) without food can cause adverse reactions in certain otherwise healthy individuals...," it is also true that otherwise healthy individuals will react to less than 3 grams of processed free glutamic acid (MSG). They did that because there is little or no food in the market that contains as much as 3 grams of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) per serving. Not even the food ingredient "monosodium glutamate" contains as much as 3 gram of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) per serving. So if the sky fell in, and the FDA was forced to pretend to require labeling of processed free glutamic acid (MSG), they would be all set to propose a labeling requirement such that there would be no product out there that would have to be labeled.

It would appear that the FDA's next move is not to move. But if they are forced to move, which is doubtful, rest assured that they will do nothing that will be of benefit to people who are sensitive to processed free glutamic acid (MSG), or people who might simply want to avoid this toxic substance.