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Glutamate Industry Research from Scripps Clinic


A special role has been played by Ronald Simon, M.D. and Donald D. Stevenson, M.D. of Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, LaJolla, California. In 1991, Simon, with Dean D. Metcalfe, M.D., and Hugh R. Sampson,M.D., had praised the work of David Allen, M.D., who had found that MSG is an asthma trigger; and they included his study in Food Allergy: Adverse Reactions to Foods and Food Additives (Metcalfe, Sampson, and Simon, 1991). In a letter to George R. Schwartz, M.D., Allen wrote, "Last week my friend Ron Simon from the Scripps Clinic called me and asked me to participate in a symposium at the American Academy of Allergy meeting in San Francisco in March of next year. I will be speaking on sulphites and MSG and their potential to provoke asthma" (D. Allen, personal communication, August 20, 1990).

On August 31, 1995, the FDA released a report on the safety of MSG in food, done by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology [FASEB] (1995). In that report, FASEB acknowledged that MSG was an asthma trigger, and that doses of MSG as low as .5 grams MSG had triggered MSG reactions. On the day before that allegedly confidential report was released, Simon and Stevenson wrote to inform the FDA that they believed that the FASEB report to be released the next day had made a grave error in stating that MSG was known to be an asthma trigger, for they had found Allen's work to be lacking (Simon and Stevenson, 1995). In 1995, Simon and Stevenson were doing research for the IGTC (Stevenson et al. 1997).

Of obvious interest is the fact that Simon and Stevenson knew what was in the August 31,1995 FASEB report before it was released. Not obvious, is the fact that although Simon and Stevenson spoke of having conducted MSG oral challenges on asthmatic patients who experienced asthma attacks in restaurants since 1980, their letter clearly states that as of that date, they had tested only 25 patients (Simon and Stevenson, 1995). Given that 25 per cent or more of the population is sensitive to MSG (Reif-Lehrer, 1977) and that approximately 2 per cent of the MSG reactions reported to the FDA Adverse Reactions Monitoring System are asthma reactions, on a straight probability basis, Simon and Stevenson had not tested enough patients to expect even one of them to express an asthma reaction to MSG. Moreover, according to their August 30, 1995 letter to the FDA, Simon and Stevenson did no systematic study, but only observed patients who came to Scripps Clinic for treatment; and they looked for no reactions other than asthma (Simon and Stevenson, 1995).

In 1996, the newsletter of the NOMSG consumer group reported that when an MSG-sensitive person responded to an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times for test subjects for a new asthma study at Scripps Clinic being conducted by Simon and Stevenson, she was told that "1) if she feared her asthma reactions to be serious that she should not apply for the study; 2) that the person who was screening the applicants didn't believe that MSG could cause asthma reactions; and 3) that this particular person was most likely responding to sulfites, and not to MSG" (Schwartz, 1996).

In a May 28, 1997 letter, Simon responded to an inquiry I had made, saying, "There is no study that we are ‘doing for Ajinomoto or one of their agents, on the general subjective sensitivity to MSG. The abstract presented at the February 1997 AAAAI meetings was a preliminary report of an ongoing study we designed concerning MSG sensitivity in asthmatics." Included in the program for that meeting, however, was an abstract for a poster session "The Role of Monosodium L-Glutamate (MSG) in Asthma: Does it Exist?" by Stevenson et al. (1997); funded by the IGTC.

As is always the case, the activities of Simon and Stevenson might appear to be isolated incidents. When placed within the context of activities designed to accommodate the sale of monosodium glutamate, however, they assume great significance. In 1992, FASEB undertook a study of the safety of MSG in food, responding to 18 questions outlined for it by the FDA. The September, 1995 draft final report of that study, submitted to the FDA by FASEB, was rejected by the FDA, "for clarification;" and the contract between FASEB and the FDA was rewritten, directing FASEB, through the wording in their new contract, to come up with the conclusion that MSG reactions were not triggered by less than 3 grams MSG. In the face of growing recognition that MSG was causing adverse reactions in substantial numbers of people; and that the glutamate cascade was implicated in such disease conditions as stroke, seizures, ALS, Alzheimer's disease, and addiction; the glutamate industry had changed its strategy for keeping MSG hidden in food from claiming that essentially no one was sensitive to MSG, to claiming that essentially no one was sensitive to less than 2.5 or 3 grams MSG. For the FDA to accept, as credible, research that had found subjects to respond to as little as .5 grams MSG, as Allen had, would not, therefore, be tolerable. It is not inconceivable that Simon and Stevenson had been asked to discredit Allen's research.


Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) (1995). Analysis of adverse reactions to monosodium glutamate (MSG). Bethesda, MD: Life Sciences Research Office, FASEB.

Metcalfe, D.D., Sampson, H.A., and Simon, R.A. (Eds.). (1991). Food Allergy: Adverse Reactions to Foods and Food Additives. Oxford: Blackwell.

Schwartz, K. (1996, Summer). NoMSG Messenger (Newsletter of the National Organization Mobilized to Stop Glutamate)

Simon, R.A. and Stevenson, D.D. (1995, August 30). Letter to FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler.

Stevenson, D.D., Simon, R.A., and Woessner, K.M. (1997, February 25). The role of monosodium L-glutamate (MSG) in asthma: does it exist? Poster presentation #1670. AAAAI/AAI/CIS joint meeting. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immonology. San Francisco, CA.