Our activities, many described in these web pages, have included visits to congresspersons and scientists, attendance at food industry meetings, testimony before representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and filing a lawsuit against the FDA. But more importantly, we have been making information on the toxic potential of MSG and where it is hidden in food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, dietary supplements, pesticides and fertilizers and vaccines, available to consumers.
This organization was founded by Jack Samuels, a health care professional who had an acute, life-threatening sensitivity to MSG, and Adrienne Samuels, an experimental psychologist by training with expertise in research design, methodology, and statistics. Both had the skills needed to understand the science underlying Jack’s life-threatening sensitivity, along with the ability to distinguish between the fact of his sensitivity and the fiction generated by those who profit from the manufacture and sale of MSG. Adrienne possessed the knowhow to recognize design flaws in research reports – including those research reports that claimed to have found that MSG is “safe.”
The first (and ongoing) project of The Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC) was to secure identification of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) whenever and wherever it occurs. For over 30 years, concerned consumers have tried to work with the FDA to resolve this identification issue, but have found no evidence that the FDA is ever going to act on their behalf. It appears that only through a true grassroots effort might the FDA's refusal to require labeling of MSG be resolved.
It was with this in mind that the TLC joined with 29 petitioners, whose ranks included physicians, researchers, and parents acting on behalf of their MSG-sensitive children, to file a Citizen Petition asking the FDA to require labeling of all MSG found in processed foods. The Citizen Petition was followed by a lawsuit that the FDA easily had set aside. The FDA had only to invoke the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which allows agencies of the U.S. government to tell the court what material it may or may not look at. Through use of the APA, the FDA was able to withhold evidence contained in its own files that testifies to the fact that MSG has toxic potential.
They were looking for answers to the riddle of Jack’s sensitivity. What, exactly, caused his reactions? Why did some people react, while others did not? But they found it extraordinarily difficult to look for answers when they didn’t know what questions to ask.
Adrienne started with the phone book looking up "dietician," and "nutrition," and "FDA.” She called colleges and universities, and when those to whom she spoke couldn't answer her questions, she asked them to tell her who could. The first call that paid off was to the University of Illinois, where she was referred to Dr. Steve Taylor at the University of Nebraska -- "the authority on MSG.” The Institute of Food Technologists also referred her to Dr. Steve Taylor. The American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, and the FDA referred her to The Glutamate Association.
Adrienne spoke to Richard Cristol at The Glutamate Association. He assured her that Jack could not possibly be sensitive to MSG, and he sent her a book that, he said, would prove it. Richard Cristol also suggested that Adrienne speak to Steve Taylor, who also assured her that Jack could not be sensitive to MSG, and suggested that she speak to Richard Cristol at The Glutamate Association.
Adrienne had now come full circle.
The book sent by Richard Cristol, Glutamic Acid: Advances in Biochemistry and Physiology (1), contained the proceedings of a symposium held in May, 1978 in Milan, Italy, for the thinly veiled purpose of appearing to prove that MSG was safe. It was soon obvious to Adrienne that the research reported was, for the most part, built on inappropriate methodology and/or drew conclusions that did not follow from the results of the studies. There were, however, a limited number of papers that appeared to contain more than propaganda. One, by Dr. John Olney, was particularly interesting, and Adrienne set out to read more.
Adrienne read it all. She read dictionaries, encyclopedias, books, and journals. She had no difficulty reading scientific articles, and quickly discovered that there were two distinct sorts of studies: those that set out to uncover the truth, whatever that might be; and those that set out to lend credibility to the notion that monosodium glutamate was safe. Some studies seemed to conclude that monosodium glutamate was a harmless substance, while other studies concluded that monosodium glutamate was toxic. That was very interesting to Adrienne the researcher, but told her nothing about the nature of the ingredients that caused Jack’s debilitating reactions, and why some, but not all people, suffered similar reactions. And that, after all, was what the two of them were desperate to know.
The answers did come eventually, not from studies of the safety/toxicity of monosodium glutamate, but from individual consumers, manufacturers, food chemists, food technologists, food encyclopedias, trade magazines, people Jack met on airplanes, and intuition.
First they came to understand that all of the adverse reaction triggers named by Dr. Schwartz in his book, In Bad Taste, the MSG Syndrome, contained free glutamic acid, i.e., glutamic acid that existed separate and distinct from protein. It was only as consumers began reporting that they reacted to products in addition to those with ingredients named by Dr. Schwartz, that they began to realize that MSG-reactions were always associated with ingredients that contained manufactured free glutamic acid, whether freed from protein through some manufacturing process or through fermentation, or produced by genetically modified bacteria that were grown to excrete monosodium glutamate through their cell walls.
From trade journal articles and advertisements, they learned that ingredients containing processed free glutamic acid could be substituted for monosodium glutamate without sacrificing industry’s perception of desirable taste. In addition, they learned that people in the flavoring industry understood that there was profit to be made from monosodium glutamate substitutes that had “clean labels,” i.e., labels that gave no indication that was anything related to monosodium glutamate in the product.
From a study done by Rundlett and Armstrong (2), they learned that processed food that contained free L-glutamic acid invariably contained free D-glutamic acid. And with that knowledge, they were able to search out information about impurities found in monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contained MSG. They even found an explanation of impurities present in monosodium glutamate tucked away in the files of the FDA’s Dockets Management office.
On the Internet, they found copies of patents associated with the production of monosodium glutamate, and from that they learned that in 1957, Ajinomoto’s monosodium glutamate was made by a process of bacterial fermentation – a new process -- wherein carefully selected genetically modified bacteria that were fed on various carbohydrate media secreted glutamic acid through their cell walls. Clearly, the “monosodium glutamate” made previously by extraction without the aid of genetically modified bacteria (prior to 1957), and much of the “monosodium glutamate” for sale in the United States after 1957, were not one and the same.
Before they were finished, they realized that any glutamic acid that was ingested as a single amino acid (with or without other single amino acids) would cause MSG reactions in people who exceeded their tolerances for the substance. They also came to understand that MSG can be intentionally produced/manufactured in food or chemical plants by acid hydrolysis, autolysis, enzymolysis, or bacterial fermentation; and MSG will be produced, possibly unintentionally, when a protein source is left to ferment.
They found that MSG can be produced through a complex cooking process wherein a product referred to as a “reaction flavor” is produced from a combination of specific amino acids, reducing sugars, animal or vegetable fats or oils, and optional ingredients including hydrolyzed vegetable protein.
And last but not least, they discovered that acid hydrolyzed proteins contain carcinogenic mono and dichloropropanols (3,4), and reactions flavors contain carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (5,6).
As pieces of the puzzle came together, they began to give serious consideration to the discrepancies in the published literature -- the so-called scientific studies. They knew that MSG caused adverse reactions, but how could it be that industry was able to produce studies from which it could conclude that MSG was safe?
The key to understanding how data could be so manipulated -- to come up with the predetermined conclusion that monosodium glutamate was a harmless flavor enhancer -- still eluded them. Through careful re-reading of each industry-sponsored study, they became aware that none met the assumptions of the statistical tests used and cited, and on that basis alone, the conclusions drawn from each and every study were invalid. But there had to be something more.
And there was something more. In the double-blind studies, where subjects ingested monosodium glutamate on one occasion and a placebo on another, researchers reported that there were as many responses to placebos as there were to monosodium glutamate test material. And that, they knew, was impossible -- unless, of course, those placebos were not truly inert, as placebos must be. But that was unthinkable. It was unthinkable that anyone – anyone -- would lace placebos with material that might cause adverse reactions.
By the beginning of 1991, however, they realized that the unthinkable was exactly what was going on. And on February 4, 1991, at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) hearing on the Safety of Amino Acids Used in Dietary Supplements, Jack raised the question that should have rocked the glutamate industry’s world, immediately removing monosodium glutamate from the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list.
Jack questioned the propriety of placebo material being used by the International Glutamate Technical Committee (IGTC) in their double-blind studies of the safety of monosodium glutamate. They found out later, that in a March 22, 1991 letter written in response to a question raised by Sue Anne Anderson, R.D., Ph.D., Senior Staff Scientist with the Life Sciences Research Office at FASEB, IGTC chairman Ebert acknowledged that since 1978, all of the placebos in double blind IGTC-sponsored studies had been laced with aspartame – an ingredient that can produce the exact same reactions as monosodium glutamate.
They had started their quest with two questions, the first being, “What is the nature of the products that cause Jack’s reactions?” But before they found the answer to that they had raised two others. First, given the fact that monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contain MSG have toxic potential, and there are no studies from which it could be legitimately concluded that monosodium glutamate was “safe,” why does the FDA allow the intentional addition of MSG to processed food? And second, why isn’t the US population aware of MSG’s toxic potential?
When TLC was incorporated, Jack and Adrienne were still deluding themselves with the hope that given a face-saving “out,” the FDA would admit to the toxicity of MSG and label MSG-containing ingredients appropriately.
However, repeated visits to legislators in Washington, a lawsuit brought against the FDA over labeling, the FDA’s rejection of the “independent” 1995 study on the safety of MSG done for the FDA by FASEB, the EPA’s refusal to evaluate the toxic effects of MSG used in products they regulate, and California’s acquiescence to the forces of the glutamate industry, finally convinced them that no amount of truth would be sufficient to counter the glutamate industry’s control of the US government and our health care community.
The power of industry and the greed of people in all walks of life and with all degrees of power who are fed by industry have made it virtually impossible for the consumer to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about MSG.
2. Rundlett KL, Armstrong DW. Evaluation of free D-glutamate in processed foods. Chirality. 1994;6:277-282.
3. Pommer K. New Proteolytic enzymes for the production of savory ingredients. Cereal Foods World.1995;40(10):745-748.
4. Food Chemical News, Dec 2, 1996. p24-25.5.
5. Lin LJ. Regulatory status of maillard reactions flavors, Washington DC: Division of Food and Color Additives, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration. Paper presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, August 24, 1992.
6. Food Chemical News, May 31, 1993. p16.
For information about carcinogenic propanols access: