Beware -- "Organic" Doesn't mean "no MSG" --

Report from 2006

"Autolyzed yeast" and "natural flavoring" in organic products contain just as much processed (manufactured) free glutamic acid (MSG) as conventional products.  Carrageenan in organic products causes adverse reactions just as non-organic carrageenan does.

A BIT OF HISTORY

In1990, a National Organic Program, to be run by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), was created by Congress.

Following outcries from 275,603 professionals and consumers concerned about the integrity of organic food, the USDA's initial proposed National Organic Standards, circulated in December, 1997, were withdrawn.

On March 13, 2000, the USDA proposed improved, but still unacceptable, National Organic Standards (the Proposed Rule). Under the law and the Proposed Rule, there was to be a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) whose function it would be to make recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on substances to be placed on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. Members of the NOSB were to be nominated by legislators and approved by the USDA. The NOSB would make recommendations, but final decisions pertaining to the National Organic Program, including decisions about which substances would and would not be included in the National List, were to rest with the Secretary of Agriculture, i.e., with the USDA.

In making their recommendations to the USDA, the NOSB was to consider Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) reviews and input from public meetings as well as its own expertise. TAP reviews were to be a required step for making changes to the National List; and the USDA was to award TAP review contracts only to independent, reputable organizations with expertise in relevant areas. At the time the Proposed Rule was being promulgated, TAP reviews were being provided to the NOSB by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) under contract to the USDA.

In the late 1990s, when the Truth in Labeling Campaign became aware that there was to be a National Organic Program run by the USDA, we were fearful that placing a national organic program with the USDA would almost certainly undermine the integrity of the organic industry. Our deep seated concern stemmed from our growing understanding of the tremendous pro-big business, consumer-be-dammed influences exerted over Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA staffs by the food and drug industries; and our growing understanding of  FDA and USDA infrastructures that enabled revolving door policies whereby industry personnel rotated in and out of the FDA and USDA, and/or FDA and USDA employees took lucrative jobs in the food and/or drug industries after retiring from the FDA or USDA. (We would later learn that those same influences affected decisions made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)).

On August 8, 1997, Auxein Corporation made application to the EPA for registration of its pesticide product AuxiGro WP Metabolic Primer (AuxiGro) containing the active ingredients GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) at 29.2 percent and processed free glutamic acid (MSG) (identified in the application as "glutamic acid" ) at 36.5 percent. Federal Register notices chronicling the application and approval of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) and AuxiGro are available on the Web via GPO Access, the Federal Register, through: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html.  Testing of AuxiGro was also approved in that year, and many of the test crops sprayed with AuxiGro were brought to market without giving notice to consumers.

On January, 7 1998, the EPA granted processed free glutamic acid (MSG) (identified as "glutamic acid") an exemption from establishment of a tolerance limit--meaning that there would be no limit to the amount of MSG residue from AuxiGro that could remain in or on a fruit, seed, grain, leaf, or vegetable when brought to market.  In that same month, AuxiGro was approved for use on a number of crops.  Approval for use on all other crops came later. These approvals were not announced in the Federal Register.

On September 25, 1998, the name first used for MSG by Auxein Corporation ("glutamic acid") was changed to "L-glutamic acid."

Understanding how Ajinomoto Co., Inc., (the world's largest producer of the flavor enhancer known as "monosodium glutamate" and a leading manufacturer of free amino acids) operates (l-manuscript.html), it occurred to us that Auxein might approach the organic community for organic certification. Might approach? Ha! By the time we became aware that the EPA had approved processed free glutamic acid (MSG) for use on crops, and had also approved the "growth enhancer" called AuxiGro, Auxein Corporation had approached OMRI to recommend AuxiGro for organic certification.  At the same time, we were told that OMRI had approval of AuxiGro virtually assured.  The appropriateness of technical advice given to the NOSB and the USDA by OMRI had gone virtually unchallenged.

At the time, OMRI published and disseminated generic and specific (brand name) lists of materials rated by OMRI as being allowed for use in the production, processing, and handling of organic food and fiber. Much of the organic industry looked to OMRI for interpretation of research pertaining to the safety and/or appropriateness of products for organic use.  If a product was added to an OMRI list of materials rated by OMRI as being allowed for use in the production, processing, and handling of organic food and fiber, the producer was charged both an initial charge and a yearly fee for maintaining their product on OMRI's list. So if OMRI was able to convince the organic community to approve MSG and AuxiGro for use in organics, OMRI would receive both an initial fee and a yearly fee from Auxein. Thus, OMRI's  income was dependent, at least in part, on the number of products it successfully recommended be allowed to use the label "organic."  From 1999 to 2002, OMRI was pushing to add AuxiGro to its list of allowed substance, and to have the National Organic Program add processed free glutamic acid (MSG) and AuxiGro to the list of allowed substances on the National List.

So there it was. Our fears had become reality. The USDA was operating as we had seen it work in the past: doing the bidding of big business or looking the other way while its contractors or others did the bidding of big business.  We had seen it written that the USDA would award TAP review contracts only to independent, reputable organizations with expertise in relevant areas. In actuality, the USDA had awarded a TAP contract to an organization that was going to profit from every product it convinced the National Organic Program to add to its list of acceptable materials.  The same OMRI that Auxein Corporation was paying to get MSG and AuxiGro approved for organic use had a contract with the USDA to tell the USDA what products they should approve.  Clearly, the USDA did not (and does not today) understand the concept of "conflict of interest."  In fact, when asked later about the credentials that TAP reporters must have, the USDA mentioned "demonstrable expertise in organic production and handling or scientific disciplines such as veterinary medicine, ...or toxicology."  The USDA did not list freedom from conflicts of interest among its list of necessary credentials.

It would appear that the organic community had not been aware of what was going on in this arena, just as they had not been aware that autolyzed yeast was not appropriate for use in or with products certified organic. When the Truth in Labeling Campaign alerted the organic community to the fact that the "L-glutamic acid" in AuxiGro is a synthetic product, and that it is identical to the processed free glutamic acid (MSG) found in the food additive called "monosodium glutamate," the approval process for "L-glutamic acid" and AuxiGro ceased to move forward. It must be noted, however, that OMRI's Technical Director, Dr. Brian Baker, who was spearheading OMRI's representation of both "L-glutamic acid" and AuxiGro as being suitable for use with organic products, did not recommend denying their organic certification. OMRI simply tabled its application to the National Organic Program. Several years later, OMRI withdrew its application.  According to information coming from OMRI in 2006, "While the product name [AuxiGro] was at one time considered for inclusion in our list, the organization did not complete the decision to list the product. In 2002, the company voluntarily removed the product from consideration because the new National Organic Program Rule would have clearly prohibited it."

As this was first written (June, 2006) OMRI was no longer listed among the USDA's TAP reviewers.  We have not, however, seen a statement from the National Organic Program stating that they would reject TAP review applicants because of conflicts of interest.  Neither is the list of allowed substances on the National List free of MSG-containing ingredients. Allowed ingredients that are known to cause MSG reactions in MSG-sensitive people, which are made with synthetic chemicals, include Autolyzed Yeast, Brewers Yeast, Nutritional Yeast, and Carrageenan.

According to the Truth in Labeling Campaign's "Hidden Sources of MSG," in 2010, MSG-containing ingredients found on the National List of Allowed Substances include:

- Citric - produced by microbial fermentation of carbohydrate substances
- Carageenan
- Cornstarch
- Enzymes
- Gums
- Yeast autolysate
- Brewers yeast
- Nutritional yeast
- Calcium Citrate

And what if your chemical isn't on the list?  The National List can be amended. Any person may petition the national Organic Standards Board for purposes of having a substance evaluated for inclusion in the National List.

The influence of big business is ever growing.  On December 5, 2006, we wrote the following:

National Organic Standards Board Stacked with Industry Reps

The USDA, behind closed doors, recently announced several highly questionable appointees to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Despite calls from the organic community to let the public know ahead of time who the nominees were, the USDA kept the names of the nominees secret. The NOSB advises the USDA on how to interpret and implement national organic standards. Despite federal law that mandates that the 15-member NOSB must be broadly representative of the organic community, the USDA's recent appointees are all notable for their past or present ties to corporate agribusiness. For example the appointee for the seat reserved for a "Consumer and Public Interest Group Representative" was given to Tracy Miedema, who works for Stahlbush Island Farms, a split-farm operation with 3/4 of its acreage non-organic. Miedema, who previously worked for a subsidiary of General Mills (Small Planet) freely admits that Stahlbush utilizes Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, as well as other chemical pesticides and fungicides. The USDA's appointee for the seat reserved for a scientist was Katrina Heinze, who works for Small Planet/General Mills, a company with a hardball reputation for selling sugar-laden cereals to kids, supporting GMOs, and industrial agriculture. Heinze was forced to resign from the NOSB last year, under pressure from the OCA and the Consumer's Union, after being appointed "consumer representative" to the NOSB. Another one of the "organic experts" appointed to this powerful government board was a representative of Campbell's Soup.

Margaret Wittenberg, currently a vice president of Whole Foods Market, served on the NOSB until the year 2000.  Whole Foods does not sell foods that contain the ingredient “monosodium glutamate”, but they sell many processed foods that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG), MSG-containing dietary supplements, and protein powders, while claiming to consumers that they sell nothing that contains “MSG”.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

A variety of sources say there will be no end to the pressures put on the Organic program by big business.  For example:

"Over the course of 10 days in mid April, [2004] the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued three "guidances" and one directive -- all legally binding interpretations of law -- that threaten to seriously dilute the meaning of the word organic and discredit the department's National Organic Program." (http://www.grist.org/news/muck/2004/05/18/griscom-organic/)

"After 35 years of hard work, the US organic community has built a multi-billion dollar alternative to industrial agriculture. Now large corporations, aided and abetted by the USDA and members of Congress, are moving to lower organic standardS and seize control. For the sake of the earth and our health we must stop them." (http://www.organicconsumers.org/sos.cfm)

What Is Organic? Powerful Players Want a Say
"Senate and House Republicans on the Agriculture appropriations subcommittee inserted a last-minute provision into the department's fiscal 2006 budget specifying that certain artificial ingredients could be used in organic food"
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/01/business/01organic.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5088&en=20571681feeb4ad1&ex=1288501200&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

According to a statement made in 2006 by Emerald BioAgriculture (formerly Auxein Corporation), the idea of having AuxiGro certified organic is far from dead:  "...AuxiGro is not a certified organic compound at this point in time and I can not predict when we will raise the issue again with OMRI or the NOSB."
 

THE MSG PRODUCED IN FOOD PROCESSING AND CHEMICAL PLANTS IS ALWAYS SYNTHETIC

It is true that in its unadulterated, unprocessed, unfermented free form, L-glutamic acid can be a building block of protein, a neurotransmitter, a neurotoxic amino acid, and an endocrine disrupter. When produced for use in food, drugs, cosmetics, and agricultural applications, however, L-glutamic acid is not produced in isolation.  It is always a synthetic product that contains undesired impurities along with the desired L-glutamic acid. When produced by way of acid hydrolysis or the Maillard reaction (1), this processed product contains carcinogens. When produced through bacterial fermentation, the bacteria used to produce the bacteria that excrete glutamic acid through their cell walls are genetically modified using various procedures which can include irradiation.

A TASTE OF THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THE NATIONAL ORGANIC STANDARDS:

On October 21, 2002, the Proposed Rule became the Final Rule.  The Final Rule established the National Organic Program (NOP) under the direction of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), an arm of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  The Final Rule is loaded with serious shortcomings. Among those shortcomings, the Final Rule:

-- a) Failed to prohibit use of  synthetic chemicals such as glutamic acid, aspartic acid, and L-cysteine, which are known to cause damage to the nervous system and which, in some cases, are accompanied be mono and dichloro propanols or heterocyclic amines, which are invariably carcinogenic. Those synthetic chemicals are not prohibited for any use.

By NOP definition, synthetic refers to "a substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral sources, except that such term shall not apply to substances created by naturally occurring biological processes." By NOP definition, then, processed free glutamic acid (MSG) is a synthetic.

-- b) Included on the National List of allowed and prohibited substances, synthetic food ingredients such as glutamic acid, aspartic acid, and L-cysteine, which are known to cause damage to the nervous system and, in some cases, to be invariably accompanied be mono and dichloro propanols or heterocyclic amines which are invariably carcinogenic. Examples of such allowed food ingredients are Brewers Yeast, Nutritional Yeast, Yeast Extract, and Autolyzed Yeast.

-- c) Included on the National List of allowed and prohibited substances are food ingredients known to cause MSG reactions in MSG-sensitive people. Examples of such allowed synthetic chemicals are, Autolyzed Yeast, Brewers Yeast, Nutritional Yeast, and Carrageenan.

-- d) Failed to prohibit use of agricultural products such as fertilizers, fungicides, plant growth regulators, plant growth enhancers, and pesticides 1) made with, or containing, neurotoxic amino acids such as glutamic acid, aspartic acid, and L-cysteine; or 2) made through processes such as autolysis, enzymolysis, fermentation, bacterial fermentation, and hydrolysis that produce neurotoxic amino acids and, in some cases, carcinogens during processing.

-- e) Failed to prohibit use of ingredients identified simply as Flavor, Flavoring, Natural Flavor, or Natural Flavoring, that would give consumers no clue to what was in those ingredients. The glutamate industry has been known to hide processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in those ingredients. The FDA allows manufacturers to include, without disclosure, neurotoxic amino acids in ingredients that are simply called Flavor, Flavoring, Natural Flavor, or Natural Flavoring.  The only exception lies in the FDA requirement that “monosodium glutamate” and “hydrolyzed…protein” cannot be included in these flavoring ingredients without being listed on their products’ labels.

-- f) Failed to protect the National Organic Program from people who stand to profit from certification of certain foods or chemicals as being organic, i.e., people with conflicts of interest.

-- g) Misled consumers looking for organic products by allowing there to be four distinctly different uses of the word "organic" in labeling of products that contain organic ingredients. The USDA should certainly know that, by and large, consumers are not going to be aware that depending on how the word organic is used, the organic material in a product wherein the word "organic" is used can vary from 100% to less than 50%. Those who wrote the National Organic Standards, and those in the industry, might know that "organic" means "contains 95% or more organic material," but consumers won't know that. Similarly, the consumer may very well not stop to think that a product that is "made with organic tomatoes" may contain as much as 50% non-organic material.

-- h) Allowed hiding non-approved toxic ingredients in food products that would be promoted as being organic, or in food products that would be promoted as containing organic ingredients. It was proposed that there should be four designations used for Processed Food that would be identified as organic or containing organic ingredients:

-- Products sold, labeled, or represented as "100 percent organic" would be 100% organic.

-- Products sold, labeled, or represented as "organic" would contain not less than 95% organic material.

-- Products sold, labeled, or represented as "made with organic (specified ingredients)" would contain at least 50 percent organically produced agricultural products.

-- Products with less than 50 percent organic ingredients would use the word "organic" only in the ingredient panel. An organic ingredient would be identified as "organic (specified ingredient)."

-- i) Made it possible for Senomyx, a purely chemical product used, in one formulation, to mimic the flavor enhancements effects of MSG, to be used in products labeled organic.

 

Labels for all will contain the word organic either in the name of the product or in the ingredient panel. The new rule allowed substances on the list of prohibited substances on the National List to be used in certain products that carry the word "organic" somewhere on the label.

The National Organic Program can be accessed at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/ The names of ingredients that have been approved for use in and/or on food labeled Organic will be found in the National List.

References

(1) The FDA has admitted that processed free glutamic acid found in reaction flavors which are produced from a combination of specific amino acids, reducing sugars, and animal or vegetable fats or oils, and optional ingredients including hydrolyzed vegetable protein is carcinogenic (Lin, L.J. Regulatory status of Maillard reaction flavors. Division of Food and Color Additives, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA. August 24, 1992; Food Chemical News. May 31, 1993, p 16).