WUI: Writing under the influence

How our perceptions of what’s safe to eat are swayed by the PR industry
Guest blog by Linda Bonvie

For two days in September 2018, the Conrad Hotel in New York City hosted an invitation-only shindig where large quantities of wine flowed, lunch and dinner were served, chefs whipped up dishes in cooking presentations and experts gave talks and demonstrations — all extensively photographed and videotaped.
Leading the event was the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” celeb chef, Andrew Zimmern, who posed with guests for untold numbers of photos wearing his trademark round spectacles perched low on his nose.

If you took a casual look at the goings-on, it might appear to have been any other well-planned, fancy corporate convention. But it wasn’t. This was more of a boot camp for journalists and bloggers to help them effectively spread the messaging of Ajinomoto, the world’s largest producer of monosodium glutamate.

Dubbed the “World Umami Forum,” the affair took place at the mid-point in a ten-million dollar campaign spearheaded by PR giant Edelman Public Relations. Among the goals of Edelman’s client Ajinomoto is to have the press (and eventually, they hope, everyone else) start replacing the tainted name of MSG with the more pleasing umami.


From left, Gary Beauchamp, PhD, Mary Lee Chin, MS, RD, Dr. Kumiko Ninomiya, Executive Fellow Ajinomoto, Chef Chris Koetke, Takaaki Nishii, CEO and President Ajinomoto, Tia M. Rains, public relations director Ajinomoto, Ali Bouzari, Sarah Lohman, Harold McGee.

Public relations blitzes, of course, are nothing new. There were plenty of tricky PR tactics spun for the benefit of Big Tobacco. Edelman, in fact, was behind such a campaign, as detailed in the tobacco industry cache of papers uncovered during decades of litigation. Its 1978 document called “Taking the initiative on the smoking issue – a total program,” designed for RJ Reynolds, outlines several ways that “another point of view on the cigarette question” could be promoted. One plan was the creation of a “National Smokers’ News Bureau” in New York, which would “set up interviews, organize editorial briefings…and engage in extensive personal contact with media to develop specific storylines.”

What makes a modern-day Edelman storyline travel much further than those in the past, however, is reflected by the sheer number of outlets to which they’re deployed, along with a media that seems more ready, willing and able to cooperate than ever before.

Dishing out disinformation over dinner and drinks

Celeb chef Andrew Zimmern and World Umami Forum guest. (Photo Loren Wohl/AP Images)

The articles and blogs that were published as a result of the umami gathering all had an amazingly similar ring to them. Authors always seemed to drop in a mention of “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” referring to a letter sent to the New England Journal of Medicine back in 1968 as the main reason why MSG got a bad rap in the U.S. (one of Edelman/Ajinomoto’s most oft repeated, fabricated storylines).

Some of the pieces were done more creatively than others, but all managed to drive home specific key points emphasized at the umami event, dutifully repeated by writers of all stripes. But no doubt it was the headlines that made the Edelman folks smug with the satisfaction of a job well done – most especially the one that ran in the Wall Street Journal.

The story, by WSJ writer River Davis, originally appeared in the April 27, 2019 print edition of the paper under the headline “Rescuing MSG’s Unsavory Reputation” — one quickly changed online to read, “The FDA Says It’s Safe, So Feel Free to Say ‘Yes’ to MSG.”

Even the subhead was altered, adding the word “healthy” in for good measure.

Realize for a moment that here we have a top-tier newspaper switching a headline and subhead so it contains a positive string of word parings (safe, healthy, MSG, yes), and ending with a long-used PR/marketing tactic known as a call to action. That’s when the consumer is instructed to do something that will help sales, e.g., “ask your doctor,” “click here,” “call now,” or in this case, “say yes.”

Why would the WSJ do that? I attempted to find out.

Asking the question in an email to Colleen Schwartz, a communications executive at Dow Jones, I continued to poke around online, soon finding a string of shared MSG stories at the Linkedin page of Edelman SVP of Food & Beverage Gennifer Horowitz.
She had posted several of the articles published after the umami forum, most to rave reviews from colleagues. But what caught my eye was the WSJ one with the “yes” headline, commented on by a Linkedin connection of Horowitz (who previously worked with the Andrew Zimmern “brand”): “What a huge win for Ajinomoto and MSG! Congrats to the whole team!”

Hmm, what could this huge win be? Might the comment be referring to the headline swap?

I took that question directly to Schwartz, asking if the change was made at the behest of Edelman Public Relations. Schwartz emailed back almost immediately, saying she would have a response for me the next day. When the next day rolled around, she said that she needed more time, as she was “coordinating with colleagues in APAC.”

The statement she finally came back to me with was simply: “Wall Street Journal articles regularly run with different headlines in print and digital due to independent editorial preferences and space constraints. In this case, the difference in headlines is noted in the tag online: ‘Appeared in the April 27, 2019, print edition as ‘Rescuing MSG’s Unsavory Reputation.’”

Asking further questions of Schwartz proved useless. “Our statement stands – I won’t have any further comment for you,” she wrote back.

Too close for comfort

For the casual reader to know the difference between true news reporting or a writer simply giving coverage to a PR firm’s storyline isn’t easy. In the case of Edelman, its connection to the WSJ is a long and established one, even where its employees are concerned.

For example, it’s no secret that Edelman NYC brand director Nancy Jeffrey spent 10 years as a WSJ writer. Nor is Edelman’s warm and fuzzy relationship with the paper hush-hush.

As quoted in an Edelman website blog, Jeffrey recalls how Richard Edelman (son of founder Dan) would call her during her time at the paper “to meet with a client with a story to tell.” The “Edelman ethos,” Jeffrey says, is that “no one at Edelman ever rises too high to pitch a reporter.”

As for headlines, getting your messaging above the actual story may even outperform whatever the article says.

In a New Yorker story titled How headlines change the way we think, writer Maria Konnikova tells about an Australian study that found a reader’s take-away from an article is, in fact, dictated by the headline.

“By its choice of phrasing,” she writes, “a headline can influence your mindset as you read so that you later recall details that coincide with what you were expecting.”

Utilizing that concept in the digital media age can warp your mindset even more. An article that appeared in the online publication Vox a few months after the umami affair, although headlined “But what does umami taste like?” contained a snippet of code in the page so that when it’s shared online, the headline is replaced with “MSG is the purest form of umami…,” a line also used in an Ajinomoto MSG “fact sheet” and by the Glutamate Association.

Owned media, or a media owned?

Richard Edelman during an interview at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Mainstream media, said Edelman president and CEO Richard Edelman during an interview recently at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is on its way out. He calls the “notion” that media will continue on as we know them today “fallacious.” And what will replace them? According to Edelman, that will be “owned media,” meaning outlets – whether they be websites, blogs or even Facebook or Twitter accounts – over which businesses have complete control of content.

As newsrooms shrink, he says, companies are realizing “they have to tell their own stories.”

But considering how firms such as Edelman can enable companies that can afford a big PR tab to tell their own story anyway, will that really make much of a difference?

If Edelman has a catchphrase, it would probably be the Edelman Master Narrative, a.k.a. “the most important story you have to tell.”

Of course, when your client is Ajinomoto, that “story” will never include mention of the fact that MSG – a totally manufactured additive – is “excitotoxic,” meaning it can cause brain damage. It won’t disclose how MSG can trigger lifelong adverse reactions in an unborn child when a pregnant woman consumes food that contains the additive. Or that MSG, which always comes along with impurities in the finished product, is not identical to the glutamate in the human body and does not occur naturally in unprocessed foods. You won’t hear that MSG can cause a long list of adverse events (at levels that vary considerably from person to person), which can affect organs from the brain, to the heart, to the lungs to the bowels.

Do the folks at Edelman know this? Perhaps.

As reported in Gawker a decade ago, an unnamed PR executive “tipster” told how at an Edelman upper-management training session, attendees were told: “Sometimes you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is OK.”

This is an excerpt from “A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives: How to Avoid Synthetic Sweeteners, Artificial Colors, MSG, and More,” by Linda and Bill Bonvie, to be released March, 2020, Skyhorse Publishing.

MSG isn’t made from natural products

Contrary to what you’ll hear from industry (which includes the majority of Internet and news stories as well as YouTube videos), monosodium glutamate (a.k.a. MSG) isn’t made from natural products like sugar cane and tapioca, corn starch, sugar beets or molasses. That’s not how Ajinomoto – the world’s largest producer of MSG – has been making it in the U.S. since 1957. For over 60 years MSG has been produced using carefully selected genetically modified bacteria that excrete glutamic acid through their cell walls.

And, contrary to Glute propaganda, that’s not how wine, beer, vinegar and yogurt are made.

Glutamic acid (a.k.a. glutamate) is the active ingredient in MSG. It’s glutamate that triggers glutamate receptors in the mouth and on the tongue, causing them to swell, so to speak, giving the food with which the MSG is ingested a bigger, more robust, taste, than it would have without it.

There’s nothing natural about MSG. It’s manufactured.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

How MSG got a ‘bad rap.’ A tale told by the Glutes, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Ajinomoto began its challenge to MSG toxicity in 1968, following the revelation that MSG killed brain cells in laboratory animals.

Contrary to the myths circulated by the Glutes, the first hint that MSG might be toxic came from studies of the retina done by Lucas and Newhouse back in 1957. That was followed by a study titled “Brain lesions, obesity, and other disturbances in mice treated with monosodium glutamate” done by Olney and published in 1969 after having been shared with Ajinomoto in 1968.

The take-away from that research would have been that MSG causes brain damage and, possibly independently, also damages the retina.

Ajinomoto began its challenge to MSG toxicity in 1968 after learning of Olney’s work, by pretending to replicate Olney’s studies. They set up studies that couldn’t possibly demonstrate brain damage. Not by falsifying data, because that would have been deemed fraudulent. Instead, they rigged their studies by using methodology that would guarantee their results would come out as desired – techniques that would make it impossible to conclude “with certainty” that MSG caused brain damage.

As time went on and reports of reactions to MSG increased, Ajinomoto moved to human double-blind studies that were also rigged to guarantee that researchers could claim to find no evidence of MSG toxicity. In those studies, as many people would react to placebos as reacted to MSG because the placebos contained an excitotoxin (the aspartic acid in aspartame) that was so similar to the excitotoxic glutamic acid in MSG that it would cause the exact same reactions as would be caused by MSG.

When the Glutes talk about MSG getting a bad rap, they don’t talk about brain damage or retinal degeneration, both of which are caused by ingestion of MSG. They don’t mention MSG-induced obesity or infertility, also caused by MSG. And they’re not very specific about MSG-reactions like migraine headache either. Our research suggests that this “bad rap” they’re so fond of talking about is just another attempt to hide the truth about toxic MSG and clean up MSG’s bad name.

Out of curiosity we searched for examples of “bad raps” — statements made about MSG that industry claims are simply not true. But we couldn’t find any. We found only fallacious statements made by the Glutes about the safety of MSG.

Doesn’t look like MSG got a bad rap at all.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

References

  1. https://www.discussionist.com/10219099 (accessed 11/10/2019)
  2. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-msg-got-a-bad-rap-flawed-science-and-xenophobia/ (accessed 1/0/2019)

14 myths about MSG

The myth that MSG is a harmless food additive that can trigger a limited number of insignificant reactions was launched in 1968 when the New England Journal of Medicine carried a letter from Dr. Ho Man Kwok that the journal titled Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Glutamate industry agents hyped the fact that Kwok reported minor reactions to food eaten in a Northern-Chinese restaurant. And the myth was propelled forward along an unmuddied path as the myriad of scientific studies done in the 1970s showing MSG-induced brain damage, obesity, and infertility were suppressed, and all reactions other than those mentioned in Kwok’s letter were denied.

Myth: Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a harmless food additive. Scientific research has shown that MSG is a harmless food additive because study after study have failed to show that MSG causes adverse reactions.

Fact 1: The studies cited by the Glutes as evidence of MSG safety are studies in which MSG was fed to volunteers who were given test material containing MSG at one time, and at another time given a placebo that contained (without disclosure) an excitotoxic amino acid — one that would trigger the exact same reactions as those caused by MSG. When subjects reacted to both test material and placebo, which they did, researchers claimed to have again failed to demonstrate MSG toxicity. More on this subject can be found at https://www.truthinlabeling.org/flawed.html.

Fact 2: Studies showing MSG-induced brain damage were challenged by the Glutes in the 1970s, but the challenges were refuted. Now, MSG-induced brain damage is never mentioned by industry.

Myth: The FDA has investigated some of the claims of reactions to MSG and has never been able to confirm that the additive caused the reported effects.

Fact: By law, the FDA is required to investigate claims of serious reactions to the products they regulate, but they rarely do so. The reports of at least two FDA investigators who examined reports of serious reactions following ingestion of MSG did not reflect the data that had been given them by the persons reacting to MSG or by their physicians. More on this subject can be found at https://www.truthinlabeling.org/assets/it_wasnt_az.pdf.

Myth: The FDA commissioned a group of independent scientists from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to examine the safety of MSG in the 1990s, and FASEB determined that MSG is safe.

Fact: At least 3 of the alleged “independent” scientists had clear-cut conflicts of interest.

Myth: The extensive body of research which exists about glutamate has been reviewed by independent scientists and regulatory authorities around the world — all have found MSG to be safe.

Fact: The scientific authorities from around the world often cited by the Glutes, (which included the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the United Nations World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the European Communities’ (EC) Scientific Committee for Food, and the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association) considered only those documents submitted to them by Ajinomoto’s International Glutamate Technical Committee (IGTC) or their agents, or their glutamate-industry friends at the FDA.

Myth: MSG is made from corn starch, sugar cane, sugar beets or molasses by a natural method that has been used for centuries. This is known as the fermentation process. It is similar to how wine, beer, vinegar and yogurt are made.

Fact: In 1956, the Japanese succeeded in producing glutamic acid by means of bacterial fermentation, and after considerable research to identify suitable strains of microorganisms for starting the requisite cultures, large-scale production of glutamic acid and monosodium glutamate through fermentation began. In this fermentation process, genetically modified bacteria are grown aerobically in a liquid nutrient medium. These bacteria have the ability to synthesize glutamic acid outside of their cell membranes and excrete it into the medium to accumulate there.

This is a new process, not one used over centuries. And certainly not how wine, beer, vinegar and yogurt are made.

Myth: The glutamate in unprocessed/ unadulterated/ unfermented protein is the same as the glutamate in MSG. The glutamate that naturally occurs in many foods and the glutamate added in monosodium glutamate (MSG) are exactly the same.

Fact 1: The glutamate found in unprocessed/unadulterated/unfermented protein is L-glutamate only. Whereas MSG used in cosmetics, drugs, vaccines, dietary supplements, and processed food is manufactured, and always contains L-glutamate plus D-glutamate (an unwanted byproduct of L-glutamate production) plus other unwanted by-products of production that industry calls impurities. And since industry has not found a way to remove the unwanted impurities from processed free L-glutamate, the glutamate in MSG always comes with impurities.

Fact 2: It is glutamic acid that has been manufactured that causes brain damage and adverse reactions. Glutamic acid found in unadulterated protein causes neither brain damage nor adverse reactions.

Myth: There is no difference between the toxicity of food that is high in glutamate, and processed food that contains MSG.

Fact: Food that is unprocessed, unadulterated and unfermented, no matter how much glutamate it contains will not cause adverse reactions in MSG-sensitive people. Food that contains MSG will cause MSG-reactions in MSG-sensitive people if the amounts ingested exceed individual tolerances for MSG.

Myth: Monosodium glutamate has been in use for over 2,000 years.

Fact: Monosodium glutamate was invented in 1908 and reformulated in 1957.

Myth: The reactions to monosodium glutamate are mild and transitory.

Fact: Asthma, migraine headache, depression, atrial fibrillation, tachycardia, and seizures are just a few of the abnormalities known to be triggered by MSG.

Myth: The glutamic acid in monosodium glutamate is identical to the glutamic acid in unadulterated protein.

Fact: Glutamic acid found naturally in protein is L-glutamic acid, only. Glutamic acid in MSG, i.e., processed/manufactured glutamic acid, is always made up of both L-glutamic acid and D-glutamic acid, and is always accompanied by impurities in addition to the D-glutamic acid that is invariably produced when attempts are made to produce L-glutamic acid.

Myth: No one reacts to less than 3 grams of MSG.

Fact: Published studies by Scopp and Allen and hundreds of comments by MSG-sensitive people affirm that less than 3 grams of MSG may cause reactions.

Myth: Reactions to MSG occur within 10 minutes of ingesting MSG and last for less than 2 hours.

Fact: Reactions to MSG have been known to occur as long as 48 hours after ingestion and last for days.

Myth: MSG is naturally occurring.

Fact 1: By FDA definition, arsenic and hydrochloric acid would be “naturally occurring” along with MSG. Industry gets mileage from talking about MSG being “naturally occurring.” And the FDA cooperates by refusing to define the term.

Fact 2: In the United States, MSG is manufactured in Ajinomoto’s plant in Eddyville Iowa. MSG is a product of manufacture. It doesn’t occur naturally anywhere or in anything.

Myth: The blood brain barrier protects the brain from excesses of monosodium glutamate.

Fact: The blood brain barrier, once thought to prevent glutamate from sources outside of the body from entering the brain, is not fully developed until puberty, is easily damaged by such conditions as high fever, a blow to the head, and the normal course of aging. In the area of the circumventricular organs (which includes the area of brain damaged by MSG), it is leaky at best during any stage of life.

The brains of the young are most at risk from ingestion of MSG. More on this subject can be found at https://www.truthinlabeling.org/young.html.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

Ajinomoto found to conduct ‘horrific’ testing on dogs and other animals

According to PETA, numerous food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola and General Mills, have stopped conducting tests on animals to “establish health claims for the marketing of products.”

Ajinomoto, the world’s largest manufacturer of monosodium glutamate, is not one of them.

The group describes torturous experiments such as cutting open dogs’ stomachs to insert feeding tubes to deliver liquid diets with MSG, removing stomach fluids and injecting them with drugs.

Below is the petition by PETA (with link) asking Ajinomoto to put an end to its animal testing.

Urge MSG Flavor Giant Ajinomoto to End Horrific Tests on Dogs, Others

Japan-based conglomerate Ajinomoto Co., Inc.—the world’s largest manufacturer of the controversial food flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) as well as the owner of packaged frozen food brands Tai Pei, Ling Ling, and José Olé—has been tormenting thousands of dogs, fish, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, pigs, rabbits, and rats in horrific and deadly experiments since the 1950s. The company has ignored numerous attempts by PETA to discuss putting an end to worthless animal testing using its ingredients.

It’s time Ajinomoto paid attention, and we need your help.

Why Animal Testing?
Food companies frequently torment and kill animals in abusive tests to make dubious human health claims about food products and ingredients in order to market them to consumers. But the truth is that these experiments aren’t required by law, nor do they have any relevance to human health.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Superior non-animal research methods, including studies safely conducted on human volunteers or donated human tissue, are readily available, more affordable than animal tests, and far more reliable.

What Is Ajinomoto Doing to Animals?
Ajinomoto experimenters have cut open dogs’ stomachs and inserted tubes, starved them for 18 hours, given them liquid diets with MSG and other common amino acids, taken their stomach fluid, and injected them with drugs. They’ve also fed rabbits a common amino acid, starved them, repeatedly taken their blood, and then killed and dissected them. And Ajinomoto has funded or conducted recently published experiments in which rats or mice have endured their nerves being cut and have been starved, forced to run or swim, force-fed, injected with a variety of toxic cancer drugs, electrocuted, and cut open, causing some to die from botched surgeries while others were killed and dissected.

What’s PETA Doing to Help?
PETA is leading the global effort to end abhorrent animal testing in the food and beverage industry. Major companies such as Kellogg, The Coca-Cola Company, and General Mills have adopted new policies banning animal tests following talks with PETA scientists. It’s time that Ajinomoto joined the dozens of other food and beverage companies throughout the world that, after talking with PETA, have stopped funding or conducting shocking animal tests that aren’t even required by law.

Please take action and let Ajinomoto know that it’s time it banned animal testing. (The petition you can sign is at the bottom of the page linked below).
https://support.peta.org/page/14048/action/1?

Listen up people. You have power. Use it.

Everyone wants their share of the pie. Ajinomoto gets theirs in part by selling toxic amino acids and the food ingredients/products that contain them – excitotoxic glutamic acid (glutamate) in monosodium glutamate (MSG) and excitotoxic aspartic acid (aspartate) in aspartame, equal, AminoSweet, and other sugar substitutes. Monsanto/Bayer gets theirs in part by selling Roundup, which contains toxic glyphosate. And you, the consumer, would have to work hard to avoid the products of either manufacturer.

But savvy consumers are starting to have their say with companies that purchase from Ajinomoto and Monsanto/Bayer – and that will cost Ajinomoto and Monsanto/Bayer. An article by Robert Arnason in The Western Producer tells the story of what can happen when a major company gets pushed by consumers to threaten its piece of the pie. Arnason tells us that in order to keep its customers happy and buying its product, they will find a way to eliminate toxins that customers refuse to purchase.

According to Arnason, “General Mills, like all companies, needs happy and satisfied customers. That’s why it’s asking suppliers, farmers who produce oats, wheat, sugar, soybeans and other commodities, to reduce pesticide use.

“‘We can see the trends. Consumers want less pesticide in their food,’ said John Wiebold, General Mills vice president, North American direct material sourcing. ‘They want less things in their food that shouldn’t be there.’

“The company … intends to reduce pesticide use in its supply chain by encouraging farmers to adopt practices like regenerative agriculture, integrated pest management and increasing organic acres. General Mills is hoping to cut pesticide use in its supply chain for a number of reasons but the number one reason is its customers.

“‘I think what’s happening now is science and capabilities are increasing. The ability to detect pesticides, at lower and lower levels in our foods, is there,’ Wiebold said… ‘And consumers are responding to that. And we’re responding to what they’re (asking). Because they’re ultimately the reason we get to do business, every day.’”

Listen up people. You have power. Use it. Read food labels. Ask questions. Don’t buy food that contains toxic chemicals. Don’t buy food that has been treated with toxic chemicals. Buy only food that is identified as Non-GMO. And as you do that, more real, wholesome food will become available.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.


The Western Producer: General Mills uses contracts to avoid glyphosate

Mr. President…

Donald J. Trump
President
United States of America

Mr. President,

I read in the Wall Street Journal that you’ve pledged to reduce end stage kidney disease by 25 percent by 2030. Wonderful! And you did it by Executive Order!

So I’m thinking. Would you be willing to fly in the face of Ajinomoto Co., producer of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in America,  and by Executive Order stop the FDA from calling MSG a “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) food additive? Science says it’s an excitotoxin – that when present in quantity (and there’s lots and lots of it in the food we eat) it kills brain cells and from there causes obesity and infertility; while Ajinomoto gets propaganda value out of the claim that the FDA says that it’s GRAS.

It wouldn’t cost you or your administration a penny. You might even get thank-you tweets from millions of MSG-sensitive people and their MSG-sensitive children. And if you could see your way to going just a step further, and issue an Executive Order that required that the toxic glutamate in MSG and all of the other ingredients that contain it (like hydrolyzed pea protein, autolyzed yeast, maltodextrin, and natural flavoring) had to be identified on food, drug, infant formula, protein powder, and dietary supplement labels, you could probably balance the national budget on health-care savings alone.

Ideas respectfully submitted,

Adrienne Samuels
Director
The Truth in Labeling Campaign

@truthlabeling
questionsaboutMSG@gmail.com

They’re screwing around with your brain

Psychologists call it “conditioning.” Pair two items time and time again and it won’t be long before you think they’re one and the same thing. For centuries, “Umami” was a word that meant flavorful and glutamate was an amino acid. Now, because consumers are catching on to the fact that monosodium glutamate can be toxic, Ajinomoto is putting millions of dollars into transforming umami into a synonym for monosodium glutamate. And if they have their way, the brain will have umami receptors instead of glutamate receptors.

Back in the old days when cigarette advertising was allowed, Big Tobacco specialized in a type of manipulation called the “association principle.” Show smokers engaged in fun, wholesome, pleasurable activities again and again and soon you’ll equate lighting up with romance, outdoor fun, and family milestones.

It’s that kind of thing that the Glutes are doing to you – to all of us. Over and over again you see “monosodium glutamate” and “umami” and “taste good” in the same paragraph or even the same sentence. And you see celebrity chefs eulogizing the virtues of umami.

While psychologists call this “conditioning,” interrogation specialists call it “brainwashing.”

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about MSG

Definition of terms:

Monosodium glutamate (MSG): A flavor enhancing ingredient used primarily in food.

MfG: Processed free glutamic acid – the neurotoxic component of monosodium glutamate and 40+ other ingredients.

What is monosodium glutamate?

Monosodium glutamate is a manufactured product, produced in food processing and/or chemical plants.

It is composed of L-glutamic acid (L-glutamate), D-glutamic acid (D-glutamate), additional impurities, and sodium.

The L-glutamate in monosodium glutamate is a patented product.

The commercial value of monosodium glutamate lies in its ability to stimulate (swell) glutamate receptors in the mouth and on the tongue—causing consumers to perceive more taste than the food being consumed would have if it had not been enhanced.

Monosodium glutamate contains:

  • L-glutamic acid – its active ingredient,
  • Impurities — unwanted, but unavoidable by-products of production: D-Glutamic acid – the D-enantiomer of glutamic acid; Pyroglutamic acid — a breakdown product of glutamic acid; assorted other by-products, and
  • Sodium

What is glutamic acid?

Glutamic acid (often referred to as glutamate) is one of the many amino acids found in protein. When present in protein, it is tied to (bound to) other amino acids in chains.

Glutamic acid is found in most protein. Following ingestion of protein, and during the course of normal digestion, glutamic acid is released, becoming free glutamic acid.

If sufficient amounts of free glutamic acid are not available for normal body function, the body can create glutamic acid from other amino acids. Humans do not need to eat glutamic acid or eat protein that contains glutamic acid in order to supply the body with the glutamic acid that it needs. For that reason, glutamic acid is referred to as a “non essential” amino acid.

Glutamic acid has many faces.

First, and foremost, glutamic acid is a building block of protein. Amino acids are what proteins are made up of.

Second, glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter: a chemical agent that carries nerve impulses from one nerve to another. Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that move information, relaying signals between nerve cells, and from nerve cells to non-nerve cells. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. Neurotransmitters also affect mood, sleep, concentration and weight; and can cause adverse symptoms when out of balance.

Third, glutamic acid is an excitatory neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are either excitatory or inhibitory, and glutamic acid is excitatory — exciting the cells with which it communicates. Glutamic acid is the most common excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.

Fourth, glutamic acid is an excitotoxin, causing nerves to fire repeatedly, overstimulating receptor cells (both neurons and non-neurons) until receptor cells die. Glutamic acid functions as an excitotoxin when it over-stimulates brain cells, or cells outside of the central nervous system, to the point of killing them.

Glutamic acid has toxic potential

Excessive glutamate release within the body can lead to excitotoxicity, causing cell death resulting in seizures, for example. Excitotoxicity has been implicated in certain chronic diseases including ischemic stroke, epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), seizures, addiction, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and Parkinson’s disease. Glutamate released within the body as in stroke kills cells but not necessarily brain cells.

Excessive glutamate ingested as a free amino acid (not bound with other amino acids in protein) can lead to excitotoxicity, causing brain damage and subsequent endocrine disorders and adverse reaction when passed to fetuses (the unborn) and/or infants by pregnant or lactating women. Similarly, any human or animal whose brain has been damaged, or whose blood brain barrier is undeveloped, aged, or vulnerable because of prior damage may suffer brain damage from ingestion of excessive amounts of glutamate.

Glutamic acid excitotoxicity is the process that underlies the damage done by monosodium glutamate.

What is L-glutamic acid?

Glutamic acid is one of some 20+ amino acids found in protein. Just as humans have two hands, glutamic acid has two enantiomers (chemically identical molecules with the L-enantiomer being the mirror image of the D-enantiomer). Although they appear to be identical twins these molecules are fundamentally different; for one molecule cannot be superimposed on its mirror image. One molecular twin cannot be substituted for the other because they are asymmetrical. The difference is comparable to asymmetry between your right and left hands. One is a mirror image of the other, but you cannot fit your right hand into a left-hand glove.

It is generally recognized that the free amino acids and proteins found in higher organisms are composed exclusively of the L-enantiomers of amino acids. The mirror image D-forms are only known to be present in some naturally occurring peptide antibiotics and in the cell walls of bacteria.

L-glutamic acid can be fabricated. In the beginning L-glutamic acid in monosodium glutamate was produced by extraction – extracting the glutamic acid from an intact protein source (milk or seaweed, for example). After 1957, however, the method of choice for producing monosodium glutamate changed. Today, most (if not all) monosodium glutamate production is based on the growth of a carefully selected strain of genetically modified bacteria that will excrete glutamic acid through their cell walls. Other methods used to fabricate L-glutamic acid make use of enzymes, autolysis, bacterial fermentation, acid hydrolysis of protein, and production of reaction flavors.

Impurities in L-glutamic acid and monosodium glutamate.

The essence of flavor-enhancing monosodium glutamate is its L-glutamic acid; for it is L-glutamic acid that stimulates the glutamate receptors in the mouth and on the tongue to give the consumer the perception of enhanced flavor in food being eaten. Specifically, it is the L-enantiomer (L-glutamic acid), not the D-enantiomer, that has flavor-enhancing potential. So anything other than the L-glutamic acid produced when monosodium glutamate is produced would appropriately be considered an unwanted by-product of monosodium glutamate production (an impurity).

Without exception, when monosodium glutamate is produced, impurities accompany manufacture. Industry has found no way of producing L-glutamic acid and monosodium glutamate without also producing impurities. Neither has industry found a way to remove impurities from manufactured L-glutamic acid and monosodium glutamate.

The subject of impurities in monosodium glutamate was elaborated in a Bulletin of the Japanese Central Customs Laboratory in 1977. (PDF file)

Regardless of how it is produced, be it by hydrolysis, enzymolysis, autolysis, fermentation, or other, impurities will always accompany production of L-glutamic acid, hydrolyzed protein products, autolyzed yeasts, maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, and all the other products that contain processed free glutamic acid. The exact nature of the impurities will vary according to the source material used and the method(s) used in production.

  • D-glutamic acid

D-glutamic acid is the second of the two molecules that make up glutamic acid.

As is true of all amino acids, the glutamic acid molecule is chiral, i.e., it is an object that is different from its reflection. At one time no thought was given to the possibility that there might be more than a structural difference, i.e. asymmetry, between chiral molecules. But over time, it was determined that the physiological properties of the two molecules also differ.

The case of thalidomide provides a perfect example. Thalidomide is a sedative drug that was prescribed for pregnant women from 1957 into the early 60s. When taken during the first trimester of pregnancy, thalidomide prevented the proper growth of the fetus, resulting in horrific birth defects in thousands of children around the world. The reason? The Thalidomide molecule is chiral, and the drug that was marketed was a 50/50 mixture of L-form and D-form. One of the molecules was a sedative, whereas the second one caused fetal abnormalities.

  • Pyroglutamic acid

It may very well be that pyroglutamic acid holds the key to understanding glutamate toxicity. While there is no body of research focusing on the role of pyroglutamic acid in glutamate toxicity, there is research that speaks to pyroglutamic acid toxicity. There is also research that demonstrates that pyroglutamic acid can produce many of the same adverse events as produced by monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid. Add to that mix of information the facts that pyroglutamic acid can occur as a breakdown product of glutamic acid, and the fact that when L-glutamic acid is manufactured, pyroglutamic acid accompanies it as an unwanted by-product.

What evidence is there that monosodium glutamate has toxic potential?

It has been demonstrated repeatedly that it is processed (manufactured) free glutamic acid, i.e., L-glutamic acid plus impurities, that, when ingested, can cause brain damage, endocrine disorders (obesity and reproductive disorders) and adverse reactions such as asthma, heart irregularities, skin rash, and migraine headache. Glutamic acid bound in protein does not cause brain damage, endocrine disorders, or adverse reactions. When protein – whole protein — is ingested, that protein is digested, and the glutamic acid once bound up in that protein is released – without causing adverse events. It is only glutamic acid that has been freed from protein before it is ingested that causes adverse events.

Processed free glutamic acid causes adverse events regardless of the way in which it was processed or the ingredients in which it is found. The processed free glutamic acid in ingredients called “L-glutamic acid” and “hydrolyzed whey protein” will cause the same sorts of adverse events as those caused by the ingredient called “monosodium glutamate.”

Over the past 25 years, research has demonstrated that the role of sodium in monosodium glutamate does not impact monosodium glutamate’s toxic potential. It remains, therefore, that the manufactured free L-glutamic acid and/or its accompanying impurities are monosodium glutamate’s excitotoxins. The toxic component in monosodium glutamate is its processed (manufactured) free glutamic acid, which is always composed of L-glutamic acid, D-glutamic acid, pyroglutamic acid, and miscellaneous additional impurities.

Retinal degeneration

In 1957, Lucas and Newhouse first noticed that severe retinal lesions could be produced in suckling mice (and to some extent in adult mice) by a single injection of glutamate. Studies confirming their findings using neonatal rodents and adult rabbits followed shortly, with others being reported from time to time. In 2002, Ohguro et al. found that rats fed 10 grams of sodium glutamate (97.5% sodium glutamate and 2.5% sodium ribonucleotide) added to a 100 gram daily diet for as little as 3 months had a significant increase in amount of glutamic acid in vitreous, had damage to the retina, and had deficits in retinal function. Some time later, Ohguro et al. documented the cumulative effect of damage caused by daily ingestion of glutamate.

Early animal studies

In the late 60s, Olney became suspicious that obesity in mice, which had been observed after neonatal mice were treated with monosodium glutamate for purposes of inducing and studying retinal pathology, might be associated with hypothalamic lesions caused by monosodium glutamate treatment; and in 1969 he first reported that monosodium glutamate treatment did indeed cause brain lesions, particularly acute neuronal necrosis in several regions of the developing brain of neonatal mice, and acute lesions in the brains of adult mice. Research that followed confirmed that monosodium glutamate, which was routinely given as monosodium glutamate (brand name Accent), induces hypothalamic damage when given to immature animals after either subcutaneous or oral doses.

Human studies and reports of adverse reactions

What we know about monosodium glutamate toxicity and where it is hidden in food comes from discussions with researchers and food technologists; reading food encyclopedias, books, food company brochures, and published articles; attending food industry meetings; and from MSG-sensitive people and the health care professionals who work so valiantly to help them. In addition to research documenting adverse reactions to monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contain toxic processed free glutamic acid, there is evidence from consumers who report that their adverse reactions ameliorate/disappear when they clean all sources of processed free glutamic acid out of their diets.

The industry cover-up

Animal research: 1970-1980

When Olney and others demonstrated that monosodium glutamate causes brain lesions and causes neuroendocrine disorders in maturing animals fed monosodium glutamate as neonates and infants, glutamate industry researchers produced studies that they claimed were failed attempted replications; but their procedures were different enough to guarantee that toxic doses had not been administered, or that all evidence that nerve cells had died would be obscured. Industry-sponsored researchers said they were replicating studies, but did not do so. Instead, discussion was phrased to suggest that studies were “replications,” and the conclusions were based on what was said, not on the studies.

Examination of the methodology sections of representative studies by Newman, Reynolds, and Stegink will demonstrate that subjects, test materials, overall procedures, and/or methods of analysis differed from the studies being “replicated.” For example, although it had been established that brain lesions could not be identified if examination was not done within 24 hours after insult, glutamate-industry researchers routinely examined the brains of test animals after 24 hours had elapsed. They also used inappropriate methods and materials for staining the material they were examining.

Of particular interest were a study by Stegink et al. and a study by Reynolds, Butler, and Lemkey-Johnston. Careful examination will show that researchers used a single slide of the brain of one animal as evidence that free glutamic acid failed to produce brain damage in two different monkeys.

The work that demonstrates that glutamic acid causes brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders in experimental animals has been replicated many times by independent neuroscientists – neuroscientists not funded by Ajinomoto and friends. In contrast, every published study sponsored by the glutamate industry has concluded that glutamic acid is “safe.” In 1981, Nemeroff, reviewing studies of the safety/toxicity of monosodium glutamate stated unequivocally that “…not one single [primate] study has truly replicated the methods utilized by Olney, making evaluation of the available [industry] data impossible.”

By 1980, researchers were using monosodium glutamate as an ablative tool with which to selectively kill brain cells in laboratory animals in order to develop drugs with which to counter the effects of glutamic acid in neurodegenerative disease. At that point, industry simply stopped talking about the safety of administering monosodium glutamate to laboratory animals.

Human research – the double-blind studies

In the 1980s, faced with overwhelming evidence that monosodium glutamate kills brain cells in laboratory animals, industry researchers changed their strategy. They began to claim that animal studies were not relevant to humans. They initiated a series of double-blind human studies that, they said, “proved” that monosodium glutamate was safe.

Detailed analysis of these double-blind studies revealed that subjects, materials used, and protocols for administering test and placebo material, minimized the chance that subjects would react to the monosodium glutamate test material; and that if subjects did react to the monosodium glutamate test material, they would also react to material that glutamate-industry researchers called “placebos.”

Industry researchers:

  1. Used variables and methods known to minimize or be irrelevant to identification of the toxic effects of glutamic acid; then concluded that glutamic acid never produces adverse effects. Studies focused on the relationship between “objective” parameters such as blood pressure and body temperature and ingestion of monosodium glutamate. But unless monosodium glutamate sensitive people are studied, one cannot legitimately draw conclusions about the relationship of the variables being studied (no matter how objective they are) to people who are sensitive to monosodium glutamate. Often, these studies were used to “prove” that people who are not sensitive to monosodium glutamate are not sensitive to monosodium glutamate.
  2. Limited the recorded adverse effects to a few generally mild and transitory reactions occurring simultaneously, such as those first reported in 1968 by Kwok and dubbed “Chinese-restaurant syndrome” (CRS): “…numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitation.” Industry researchers do not talk about migraine headache, asthma, tachycardia, arrhythmia, depression, anxiety attacks or other obviously debilitating and/or life-threatening reactions reported since 1968.
  3. Made no attempt during a study to prevent subjects from ingesting food to which they might be allergic or sensitive — thus increasing the chance that there might be MSG-reactions at times when placebo material had been given.
  4. Recorded reactions as reactions to monosodium glutamate or placebo material only if they occurred two hours or less following ingestion of test or placebo material, even though many symptoms are commonly expressed much later, and reactions may persist for much longer periods.
  5. Failed to report all data.
  6. Drew conclusions that did not follow from the results of the studies. International Glutamate Technical Committee (IGTC) researchers concluded, for example, that because approximately one third of their subjects reacted adversely to placebos containing aspartame or glutamate-containing ingredients other than monosodium glutamate, they had “proved” that reactions to monosodium glutamate-containing test material are not reactions to monosodium glutamate.
  7. Used test material that would minimize the adverse effects of glutamic acid test material. One gram monosodium glutamate encased in capsules, and therefore guaranteeing slow release, will cause less effect than 1gram monosodium glutamate sprinkled on food; and 1gram monosodium glutamate modified with sucrose will cause less effect than otherwise because sucrose is known to slow monosodium glutamate uptake.
  8. Continued subjects on medications that might block the effects of monosodium glutamate.
  9. Using placebos to which monosodium glutamate-sensitive people would react (placebos containing aspartame, carrageenan, enzymes, or some form of processed free glutamic acid found in ingredients other than monosodium glutamate, for example), researchers tested potential subjects for sensitivity to those placebos, and eliminate any subjects who reacted to them. Researchers could be fairly certain that those who did not react to their reactive placebos would not react to monosodium glutamate test material.
  10. Advertised for, and presumably used, “well subjects” – people who had never experienced any of the symptoms with which reactions to monosodium glutamate are associated. (If 50 per cent of the population were sensitive to monosodium glutamate, but research design precluded inclusion of that 50 per cent who were sensitive, a study claiming to assess the number of people sensitive to monosodium glutamate would be invalid.)
  11. Referred to studies as “randomized double-blind crossover design studies,” which gave the casual reader the impression that subjects were drawn randomly from the general population. In fact, subjects were often carefully selected people who would tell researchers that they had never experienced any of the adverse reactions associated with monosodium glutamate, and, under those conditions, were paid generously to participate in the studies. Other subjects were people, often students, paid for participating in industry-sponsored studies only if they said they were sensitive to monosodium glutamate. In either case, the only thing in those studies that was “random” was whether subjects get their monosodium glutamate test trial first and their placebo second, or vice versa. Subjects recruited in 1993 for a study begun in 1992 carried out at Harvard Medical School, Northwestern University Medical School, and UCLA Medical School, were paid hundreds of dollars each–only if the applying subjects (many of them students) claimed that they were sensitive to monosodium glutamate.
  12. Used placebos that were virtually guaranteed to produce as many reactions as might be produced following ingestion of the monosodium glutamate test material. Using toxic material in both test material and placebo, researchers argued that the reactions to monosodium glutamate-containing test material were not reactions to monosodium glutamate because subjects also reacted to placebos, which were assumed to be inert. Actually, the use of toxic material in placebos, particularly when it is identical or similar to the monosodium glutamate in the test material, makes it virtually inevitable that there will be approximately as many reactions to placebos as there are reactions to monosodium glutamate test material.

Sometimes glutamate-industry researchers use processed free glutamic acid in placebos, but use sources of processed free glutamic acid different than the ingredient called monosodium glutamate. Gelatin, which always contains free glutamic acid, has been a favorite.

Beginning in 1978, before aspartame was approved by the FDA for use in food, glutamate-industry researchers used aspartame in placebos. Over and above the fact that use of aspartame in placebos is grossly inappropriate, the fact that aspartame-containing products are supposed to carry a warning on their labels did not deter industry from using the substance, or the FDA from allowing its use. Aspartame contains phenylalanine (which adversely affects one in 15,000 Americans); aspartic acid (an excitatory amino acid); and a methyl esther. Aspartic acid and glutamic acid load on the same receptors in the brain, cause the same brain damage and neuroendocrine disorders in experimental animals, and, with the exception of blindness related to aspartame ingestion, cause virtually the same adverse reactions in humans.

There are over 7,000 unsolicited reports of adverse reactions to aspartame filed with the FDA. It should surprise no one, therefore, that glutamate industry researchers found as many reactions following ingestion of an aspartame-containing placebo as they found following ingestion of monosodium glutamate test material.

Placebo reactions have also been noted in industry-sponsored animal studies. In 1981, it was noted by Nemeroff that Abraham, Doughtery, Goldberg, and Coulston and Abraham, Swart, Goldberg, and Coulston found in both control and glutamic acid treated monkeys a “very small proportion of necrotic or damaged neuronal cells and oligodendrocytes… in the arcuate nuclear region of the hypothalamus.” This might happen if the placebo, as well as the test material, contained small amounts of an excitotoxin identical or similar to glutamic acid.

The bottom line

About taste…
In the first half of the 20th century, food encyclopedias (with articles often written by Ajinomoto, Co., Inc., which may very well be the world’s largest producer of monosodium glutamate) characterized monosodium glutamate as a “white, almost odorless, crystalline powder with a slightly sweet or salty taste. Each gram contains 5.5 meg of sodium. [Monosodium glutamate] is used as a flavor enhancer, imparting a meaty flavor, commonly in oriental foods.” Smolinske SC. Handbook of food, drug, and cosmetic excipients. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1992

By the end of the 20th century, the mode of manufacturing monosodium glutamate had changed (a fact that has been only grudgingly publicly acknowledged by Ajinomoto), and Ajinomoto was laying the groundwork for proclaiming monosodium glutamate a fifth taste to stand side by side with sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.

It’s called Umami. It’s a fiction paid for by Ajinomoto to legitimize the use of monosodium glutamate in food. It’s the fifth taste that MSG-sensitive people can’t taste.

About the product…
Monosodium glutamate is a product that contains glutamic acid that has been freed from protein by a manufacturing process and/or through fermentation. In addition to glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate contains sodium. If follows, therefore, that monosodium glutamate is not found in protein. Protein is made up of an array of amino acids. There is no sodium in protein.

The glutamic acid portion of monosodium glutamate is made up of L-glutamic acid and D-glutamic acid. There is no D-glutamic acid in unadulterated protein.

Monosodium glutamate is a product, and, without exception, when monosodium glutamate is produced, unwanted by-products of manufacture accompany the manufacture. The subject was elaborated in a Bulletin of the Japanese Central Customs Laboratory in 1977 (PDF file).

The exact nature of by-products (impurities) will vary according to the source material used to produce the monosodium glutamate and the method used to produce it. There are no impurities associated with unprocessed, unadulterated, unfermented protein found in the human body or elsewhere.

By definition, L-glutamic acid from any source will be identical to L-glutamic acid from any other source. But monosodium glutamate contains impurities as well as L-glutamic acid. Truly natural, unprocessed, unadulterated, unfermented protein does not contain impurities.

There have been numerous patents awarded to those who would produce monosodium glutamate. Allowing patents to be awarded for processing monosodium glutamate testifies to the fact that the monosodium glutamate produced will not be truly natural, i.e., will not be an unmodified part of nature.

The rest of the story…

The rest of the story is told by the people who profit from sale of monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contain MfG. You will find their propaganda on the Internet (accessed 7/26/2016 and again on 1/12/2019):

The Glutamate Association

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – Questions and Answers on MSG”

International Food Information Council (IFIC)

“The Fifth Taste: Discovering Umami”

“Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): From A to Umami”

“Glutamate and Monosodium Glutamate: Examining the Myths”

Umami Information Center (UIC)

International Glutamate Information Service (IGIS)

MSGDish Blog — a broad array of misinformation about umami, glutamate, and MSG

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.