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Glutamate Industry Suppression of Information

Along with the glutamate industry assertion that monosodium glutamate is "safe," has come suppression of any and all commentary or data that would say otherwise.

Suppression of information relative to the toxic potential of monosodium glutamate has included:

The FDA’s suppression of information that might negatively impact the glutamate industry:

Industry/FDA refusal to identify MSG when present in processed food (making confirmation or denial of MSG-sensitivity extremely difficult);

Industry/FDA suppression of evidence that demonstrates that ingestion of MSG places humans at risk;

Industry/FDA use of imprecise and contradictory terms, half-truths, and misrepresentation of fact; and

FDA refusal to provide evidence of the toxicity of MSG which was requested under discovery when the FDA was a defendant in a legal action to require identification of all MSG in all processed food.

Since there is no getting around the fact that MSG causes migraine headache, the glutamate industry and colleagues at the FDA simply do not discuss those reactions. The FASEB, in a report done for the FDA and published July, 1995, (FASEB, 1995) covered the subject of asthma in some detail, but virtually ignored the subject of migraine headache, despite the fact that 43 per cent of the reactions reported to the FDA's Adverse Reactions Monitoring System by MSG-sensitive people were reactions of migraine headache.

Medical journal refusal to publish research that might suggest that MSG is toxic.

Medical journal refusal to publish critiques of glutamate-industry articles.

Questions in the form of Letters to the Editor have been refused publication by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (Goldschmiedt et al., 1990) and Food Additives and Contaminants (Daniels, Joe, and Diachenko, 1995). (The Daniels et al. study was done at the FDA.)

When a critique of the work of Tarasoff and Kelley was sent to Food and Chemical Toxicology in the form of a Letter to the Editor, (Samuels, 1995) the Letter was accepted for publication; but approximately seven weeks later, we were informed that "after reconsideration we cannot accept your comments on the paper by Tarasoff and Kelly for publication....Our concern is that your critique could be wrongly exploited by different groups of people involved in the MSG issue, and we therefore believe it is preferable that our journal should be kept away from any possible complications" (T. Ho, personal communication, June 1, 1994).

We protested that having been accepted, we had informed others that the Letter was "in press," and that in rejecting the letter as it had, the journal was not only acting in an unprofessional manner, but would cost us a great deal of embarrassment.

After considerable correspondence with the Journal, with Bibra Toxicology International, and with Elsevier Science, we were informed that their battery of expensive solicitors had assured them that by publishing the letter the damage to reputation, if any, had been sufficiently allayed (P. Shepherd, personal communication, February 9, 1995).

According to correspondence from Christopher Lloyd, Editorial Director, Life Sciences/Earth Sciences, Elsevier Science, "...the editorial decisions both to initially accept, and then reject [the] letter were made by the Journal's Editor, Dr. J. Borzelleca." In September, 1994, Editor-in-Chief Borzelleca had told us that the delay of publication should not be of concern because he, Borzelleca, had seen a copy of the draft final report sent to the FDA by FASEB, and knew that it would be rejected by the FDA; causing there to be sufficient time for our letter to be published and considered by FASEB.

(Of additional interest is the fact that the FASEB draft final report seen by Borzelleca was allegedly confidential.)

The Samuels Letter to the Editor of Food and Chemical Toxicology was published more than a year after publication of the original article. Borzelleca, who is on the faculty of the Medical College of Virginia, had blocked publication of criticism of the Tarasoff and Kelly study for almost a year. (Again, it is of interest to note that Donald F. Kirby, M.D., who has done double-blind studies for the IGTC (Ebert, 1990) is also on the faculty of The Medical College of Virginia.)

Borzelleca served on the Select Committee on GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) Substances that published reviews of the safety of monosodium glutamate for the FDA in 1978 and 1980.

There are a few journals that, by policy, do not accept critical letters.  Food additives and contaminants is one.

Refusal to award research grants to those proposing to study the toxic effects of MSG.

Media refusal to publish information about the toxic potential of MSG.

The potential for glutamate industry influence over the media is obvious. Radio, TV, and newspapers all carry food, drug, and cosmetic advertisements; and members of boards of directors may also be directors of food and/or drug companies.

Mention of MSG by major media sources has been virtually nonexistent since "60 Minutes" aired a story about the toxic effects of MSG in 1991. Some time after the "60 Minutes" program aired, Nancy Millman, writing for the Chicago Tribune, did an article focusing on the activities of J. Samuels and his efforts to have MSG labeled. According to Millman, prior to beginning her work, Millman had cleared the story with her editor; but the article was never published. Similarly, the Baltimore Sun accepted and then refused to print an article on MSG by Linda Bonvie; and an editor at the New York Times told Bonvie that she wouldn't take a story that even mentioned MSG. According to Bonvie, the editor had said she was unwilling to face the pressure that she knew she would face if she did. In 1991, Don Hewett of "60 Minutes" said, on television, that he had never had so much pressure applied to him by industry as he had prior to the airing of the MSG segment. Although rated by TV guide as one of the two most watched segments of the 1991 year, "60 Minutes" won't now touch a story about MSG.

Since 1991, little if any coverage outside of CNN and CBN has said anything other than that MSG-containing food is safe. The only coverage of a law suit filed by consumers against the FDA for failure to require labeling where labeling was needed to protect the public from excitotoxic MSG hidden in food was carried by CNN, CBN, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch when the suit was filed, and by CBN and the Post Dispatch when the court's decision was handed down.

A 1998 article in The Washington Post by Robert L. Wolke, expounding on the virtues of MSG, is a case in point (Wolke, 1998).  We wrote to the Editor of the Washington Post, detailing the bias in Wolke's article. Several days later, we found the following message from Fanny Zollicoffer of the Washington Post on our answering machine:

about your "...letter to the editor about MSG, and the article we had in the food section. We'd like to publish your letter. It's being considered for the free fall page on Saturday. And I'm just calling to confirm that you wrote the letter and put your name on it and sent it to no other newspaper."

When we called several days later to inquire why our letter had not appeared in the paper, we were told that the editors had decided not to print it.

Industry-generated activities to squash efforts of persons or organizations who might criticize their products.

It would seem reasonable to assume that all resources used to suppress information about the toxic potential of MSG are supported by the glutamate industry.  However, their hand in attempting to suppress information coming from a “60 Minutes” segment on MSG that might suggest that MSG has toxic potential is undeniable.  The communication we received from an anonymous source begins as follows:

“It appears 60 Minutes is going to do a story on MSG and I'm concerned that [the International Food Information Council (IFIC)] is out to cover up some facts.  I understand this group was formed to defend [aspartame] and then caffeine and now MSG!!.... I was so shocked when I read this document that I thought the least I could do was send it to you.  Since I still work for my company, I have to send it anonymously." 

The document can be accessed at IFIC's plan to kill the 60 minutes program.

Mechanically separated poultry (MSP).   In October, 1994, the Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC) was formed to promote truth in labeling, with its first project being full and clear labeling of MSG. In August, 1995 TLC sued the FDA and announced plans for fund raising.

In October, 1995, the Washington Post ran a story about the Truth in Food Labeling Campaign--formed by Public Voice for Food and Health Policy and the National Consumers League for the purpose of raising funds to combat the use of mechanically separated poultry (MSP). It seemed like an innocent coincidence–until the sponsors refused to reveal the source of the grant money given to them to set up the Truth in Food Labeling Campaign, or to elaborate on projects that had been planned for the future.

Bacons.  In an effort to generate publicity about the law suit, TLC contracted with Bacons Communications to send out press releases announcing the suit filed against the FDA. Bacons provides clipping services, mailing services, and media directories. They have offices in Chicago, Illinois. On the day following the day the releases were to go out, TLC began getting inquiries about incomplete information that had been received by fax--often a cover page, only. After receiving several such inquiries, it was ascertained that Bacons had held the releases, sending them out the day after the suit was filed, making them non newsworthy. When we made inquiry into what had happened, it became clear that the error was not due to a misunderstanding of instructions or to equipment breakdown.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).  In 1994, we attended an IFT Short Course "Allergies and other Adverse Reactions to Foods, Additives and Ingredients" sponsored by the IFT, The Food Allergy Center, and the University of Nebraska Food Processing Center. Presenters were Altman; Betty P. Rauch, M.B.A., Allerx Inc.; Daniel J. Skrypec, Ph.D. Kraft General Foods; and Sean F. Altekruse, D.V.M., M.P.H., FDA. According to Altman, who said what little was said about MSG, presenters had been told that we would be in the audience. It was only after the presentation was over that we discovered that prior to the presentation, Altman had given the press a manuscript that was replete with misinformation about the safety of MSG; while in her limited oral presentation, Altman had said nothing that we might question in public.

The concept of suppression of information is an interesting one.  It would appear that the glutamate industry works actively to suppress information that would negatively impact sales of its products.  The FDA, which would appear to be working hand in glove with the glutamate industry, might, for that reason, be expected to do the same.

Media editors who suppress information about the toxic potential of MSG might possibly be rewarded by a grateful industry, or be fearful of withdrawal of advertising or out and out harassment at the hands of those who profit from the production and sales of MSG-containing products.  In contrast, the motives of individual researchers and journal editors appear to be less clear. 

Finally, there are individuals and organizations that profess interest in the health of their members or subscribers, but refuse to provide their members, subscribers, and/or patients with information about the toxic potential of MSG.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), The University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter, and the American Association of Retired People (AARP) come immediately to mind.  There are others.


Daniels, D.H., Joe, F.L. and Diachenko, G.W. (1995). Determination of free glutamic acid in a variety of foods by high-performance liquid chromatography. Food Additives and Contaminants 12:21-29.

Ebert, A.G. (1990). Letter to Walter H. Glinsmann, M.D. Associate Director of Clinical Nutrition, Division of Nutrition, FDA. Subject: the research of Donald Kirby, M.D., Medical College of Virginia. July 13, 1990.

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

Goldschmiedt, M., Redfern, J.S., and Feldman, M. (1990). Food coloring and monosodium glutamate: effects on the cephalic phase of gastric acid secretion and gastrin release in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 51: 794-797.

Samuels, A. (1995). Monosodium L-glutamate: a double-blind study and review. Letter to the editor. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 33: 69-78.

Wolke, R.L. (1998, June 17). Food 101: The mystery of MSG. Washington Post. E1-E2.