Scientists have known MSG is toxic for decades. Why doesn’t ‘media spokesperson’ Toby Amidor?

Today I came across a 2018 article in the U.S.News & World Report health section titled “Scientists Have Known MSG Is Safe for Decades. Why Don’t Most Americans?” by Toby Amidor.

Toby Amidor, according to U.S News, has a string of credentials five lines long including Adjunct Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and Hunter School of Urban Public Health, where she teaches food service management. The magazine advises us to follow her “cutting edge nutrition information” at various online outlets.

In her U.S. News article, Toby Amidor first tells the reader that MSG’s bad reputation isn’t deserved. She then proceeds to spew out the glutamate-industry propaganda we have seen over and over again in the last two years as part of Ajinomoto’s multi-million-dollar campaign trying to prove that MSG got a bad rap and is safe for everyone.

The best of Ajinomoto’s sound bites are all in this piece, such as MSG is “naturally present in many everyday foods like tomatoes…” (ignoring the fact that MSG is manufactured, not grown in foods such as tomatoes and mushrooms).

And she learned what she knows about MSG from THE experts at a conference sponsored by Ajinomoto. According to Toby Amidor, this negative impression of MSG started with a letter that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968 that the editors titled Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. I guess they didn’t mention at that conference that right around the same time studies had shown that MSG causes brain damage when fed to infant mice. And that there were U.S. Senate hearings calling for removal of MSG from baby food – which industry promised to do.

In her article, Toby Amidor didn’t skip a beat. There’s the line “…when they injected extremely high doses of MSG directly into newborn mice’s abdomens, the mice were likely to develop health issues including obesity, stunted physical development and disturbances in brain development.” (Toby Amidor referred to it as “brain development” instead of what it really was — brain damage. And she left out infertility.) Ignored were the many MSG feeding studies that produced brain damage, obesity, learning and behavior deficits along with reproductive disorders.

The article claims that in the 1990s American scientists started questioning the validity of Chinese restaurant syndrome. Note, however, that if you actually look up the articles, those scientists were all supported, directly or indirectly by Ajinomoto, or one of their agents, such as the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

And finally, there are the so-called “independent studies” done by glutamate industry researchers who used placebos that caused reactions identical to those caused by MSG. Placebos that contained the excitotoxic aspartic acid found in aspartame. And the not so surprising results? “…those who had been given MSG didn’t experience any more ‘Chinese restaurant syndromes’ than those who’d taken the placebo.”

Maybe more a-fib, nausea and vomiting, asthma, or seizures, but those aren’t included in Chinese restaurant syndrome, And, guess what? Toby Amidor didn’t bother to mention those reactions either.

But this is all business as usual for Toby Amidor. Her list of published articles spreading the glutes’ catchphrases is quite lengthy, as is the list of her clients and corporate sponsors. She even advertises services such as “corporate and social media messaging,” saying that she “teams up with food companies and organizations as their media spokesperson.” One client listed is Ketchum Public Relations, a huge PR firm headquartered in NYC. And on a Ketchum client list you’ll find mega-MSG producer Ajinomoto.

And that is certainly no surprise. Especially when one can rattle off the glutamate party line as glibly as Toby Amidor can.

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.

Act II: If you rig your study carefully, you won’t have to think about lying with statistics

Following are details of methodology used by industry in studies designed to demonstrate that MSG is a harmless food additive. Not every method is used in every study.

Method 1: Select subjects who claim to be sensitive to the product being tested but might not be sensitive, and might not react to the product when ingested. The claim of investigators will be that subjects are people who claim to be sensitive to the product being tested, and the conclusion will be that people who claim to be sensitive are not really sensitive to the product. Keys to use of this method lie with enticing subjects who are not sensitive to say that they are sensitive (see A below), while disqualifying potential subjects who might be sensitive to the product (see B and C), and frightening subjects who might qualify, but fear that they might suffer adverse reactions if they participated (see D).

A) Offer several hundred dollars to persons who agree to participate in the study and claim to be sensitive to the product without checking the validity of their claims.

B) Require that subjects qualify as “well subjects:” people who claim to have no pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, allergies, seizures, or headaches, for example, and therefore have no history of adverse reactions.

C) Require that people who would participate in a study first demonstrate that they will not react to “screening placebos” that will contain toxic or allergenic material similar to the test material. Only people who were not sensitive to the test material would then be serving as subjects in these studies.

D) Meet the requirements for obtaining informed consent. Requiring informed consent biases these studies (2,3).

Method 2: Minimize the likelihood that a subject will react to the test material.

A) Use rather small amounts of the product being tested.

B) Provide test material in a form that will minimize any adverse effect. Encapsulating the product, for example, will guarantee slow release, and possibly cause less effect.

C) Give subjects something to eat with the test material or prior to being tested that will slow the product’s uptake.

D) Do not exclude subjects who are currently taking medications that might block adverse effects of the product.

E) Limit the time span during which adverse reactions will be recorded so some reactions to test material will occur after recording time has lapsed, and will not be counted as reactions.

F) Time administration of product and placebo so the reactions are likely to overlap, and reactions to the product will be counted as reactions to the placebo.

G) Exclude some of the known or alleged adverse reactions to the test material from consideration.

Method 3: Maximize the probability that subjects will react to the placebo.

A) Lace the material called “placebo” with material that will cause reactions similar to, or identical to, the adverse reactions allegedly caused by the product.

B) Provide meals or snacks for all subjects prior to testing or during the test period, being certain that they contain ingredients to which subjects might be allergic or sensitive — thereby possibly increasing the toxic loads of placebos to exceed subjects’ tolerance levels, and precipitate adverse reactions to placebos.

C) Make no attempt during the course of the study to prevent subjects from ingesting food, drink, or dietary supplements, or chewing gum, to which they might be allergic or sensitive.

D) Schedule test and placebo treatments so a reaction to test material might occur after the placebo is given and be counted as an adverse reaction to the placebo.

Method 4: Focus on non-relevant measures.

A) Focus on an adverse reaction, change in blood pressure for example, that will not change, or will change only marginally when a subject ingests the test material. Use those data as basis for the claim that the test material does not cause adverse reactions.

B) Exclude some of the known relevant effects or adverse reactions from consideration.

Method 5: Subject data to sophisticated sounding inappropriate statistical analyses.

A) Use inferential statistics on data collected from volunteer subjects not randomly drawn from any population, thereby violating one of the tests’ underlying assumptions.

B) Apply statistical tests to data from research designs that fail to meet one or more of the tests’ underlying assumptions.

Method 6: Without considering whether or not proposed statistical tests are appropriate, minimize the probability that statistically significant relationships and/or statistically significant differences between groups being compared will be found.

A) Minimize the number of subjects used. Start with a limited number of subjects and/or design a two-phase study wherein a number of subjects are eliminated following Phase One.

B) Where analyses of raw data do not produce the desired results, create ratios, relative frequencies, or other indices that will reduce differences in response rate between subjects responding to test material and subjects responding to placebos.

Method 7: Draw unjustified conclusions from inappropriately interpreted statistical analyses.

The statistical model on which inferential statistics are based allows the investigator to conclude that it is highly likely (95 or 99 percent probability) that differences found were not due to chance. The statistical model does not, however, allow the investigator to conclude that there is no difference between the two groups when a statistically significant difference is not found.

Drawing conclusions based on failure to find a difference (i.e., on failure to reject the null hypothesis) is grossly inappropriate (4-6). Failure to find a statistically significant difference between groups may provide useful information for planning one’s next experiment, but it proves nothing.

Method 8: Ignore relevant data; transform relevant data so that its value declines; and/or be selective about which data will be reported.
Beyond research design…
In addition to issues of research design and methodology, investigators have been known to:

A) Draw conclusions that do not follow from the results of the study;

B) Minimize discussion of embarrassing data;

C) Direct readers’ attention to things deemed to be of value to industry; not necessarily reporting all data or results of statistical tests;

D) Include discussion of ideas that have little or nothing to do with the results of the study;

E) In discussion, include material that industry wants presented to the public, whether or not it is relevant to the stated intent of the research;

F) Fail to publish, or even talk about, the results of studies that don’t come out as planned.

The issue of placebo integrity…
The test material used in these studies was the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, supplied directly or indirectly by Ajinomoto, Co., Inc.

Processed free glutamic acid is, by definition, an inevitable component of monosodium glutamate. Processed free glutamic acid is a known neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor (7) alleged to cause adverse reactions ranging from mild and transitory to debilitating and life threatening (8,9). Processed free glutamic acid will be found in ingredients other than monosodium glutamate — in an escalating number of ingredients used in a wide range of processed foods.

Processed free glutamic acid made by any method will cause the same brain lesions, neuroendocrine disorders, retinal degeneration, and adverse reactions as the processed free glutamic acid found in monosodium glutamate (10,11). In the United States, consumers who understand that they react adversely to processed free glutamic acid, no matter how it is manufactured, and regardless of the ingredient in which it is found, often refer to all processed free glutamic acid as “MSG.” Those who manufacture, sell, and promote the use of monosodium glutamate routinely restrict their use of the acronym “MSG” to refer to monosodium glutamate; and “MSG” is often used as shorthand for monosodium glutamate in the scientific literature. When researchers report that no subject had been given access to MSG, it does not preclude the possibility that there may have been access to processed free glutamic acid delivered in a form other than monosodium glutamate.

Ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid include, but are not limited to, monosodium glutamate, monopotassium glutamate, L-glutamic acid, L-glutamate, all hydrolyzed protein products, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, gelatin, pectin, citric acid made from corn, maltodextrin, textured vegetable protein, most natural flavors and natural flavoring, soy protein isolate, and whey protein concentrate. Reactions to processed free glutamic acid will occur regardless of the names of the ingredients in which it is hidden (11).

Aspartame is known to cause the same brain damage and endocrine disorders as are caused by processed free glutamic acid (7).

Aspartame contains aspartic acid, a neurotoxic endocrine disruptor that causes virtually identical brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders as those caused by the glutamic acid component of monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid (7,12); and those two neurotoxic amino acids are known to work in an additive fashion (7). Aspartame also contains phenylalanine and a methyl ester. According to records no longer kept by the Adverse Reactions Monitoring System of the FDA, ingestion of aspartame produces, with rare exception, the same adverse reactions as those produced by ingestion of monosodium glutamate; and monosodium glutamate and aspartame reactions occur with the same relative frequency (8,13).

Beginning in 1978, before aspartame was approved by the FDA for use in food, glutamate-industry researchers used aspartame in placebos (14). 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.

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. Samuels A. The toxicity/safety of processed free glutamic acid (MSG): a study in suppression of information. Account Res. 1999;6:259-310.
  2. Mitchell AM, Kline JA. Systematic bias introduced by the informed consent process in a diagnostic research study. Acad Emerg. Med 2008;15:225-30.
  3. Bjarnason NH, Kampmann JP. Selection bias introduced by the informed consent process. Lancet. 2003;361:1990.
  4. Ferguson GA. Statistical Analysis in Psychology and Education. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1959.
  5. Weinberg GH, Schumaker JA. Statistics: An Intuitive Approach. Belmont: Wadsworth; 1962.
  6. McNemar Q. Psychological Statistics. New York: Wiley; 1949.
  7. Olney JW, Ho O. Brain damage in infant mice following oral intake of glutamate, aspartate or cysteine. Nature. 1970;227:609-10.
  8. FDA Technical Information Specialist (HFS-728). Memorandum to Health Hazard Evaluation Board. Re: Summary of Adverse Reactions Attributed to MSG. June 26, 1997.
  9. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). Analysis of adverse reactions to monosodium glutamate (MSG). Raiten DJ, Talbot, JM, Fisher, KD, eds. Bethesda, MD: Life Sciences Research Office, FASEB; 1995:77-79.
  10. Olney JW, Ho OL, Rhee V. Brain-damaging potential of protein hydrolysates. N Engl J Med. 1973; 289:391-93.
  11. FDA Bureau of Foods. Letter to a consumer from S.I. Delgado. March 3, 1981. “…if you wish to avoid the so-called ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome,’ you should also avoid foods which contain hydrolized vegetable protein.”
  12. Price MT, Olney JW, Lowry OH, Buchsbaum S. Uptake of exogenous glutamate and aspartate by circumventricular organs but not other regions of brain. Neurochem. 1981;36:1774-80.
  13. FDA Technical Information Specialist (HFS-728). Memorandum to Health Hazard Evaluation Board. Re: Summary of Adverse Reactions Attributed to Aspartame. June 26, 1997.
  14. Ebert AG. Letter to Sue Ann Anderson, R.D., Ph.D., Senior Staff Scientist, FASEB. March 22, 1991.

If you rig your study carefully, you won’t have to think about lying with statistics

Act l:

Studies of the safety of monosodium glutamate have a certain sameness worth considering. To begin with, they are just that: studies of the safety of monosodium glutamate wherein the option of toxicity is really not considered.

The body of evidence that demonstrates that monosodium glutamate causes brain damage and endocrine disorders is dismissed with the statement that studies of animals do not represent the human condition and the FDA doesn’t disagree. Moreover, since one can’t see brain damage with the naked eye, there would be no reason for the man on the street to suspect that the brain damage that he cannot see would be caused by monosodium glutamate. And there are no physicians or alternative medicine practitioners suggesting that diagnosed endocrine disorders might have been caused by monosodium glutamate.

Only remaining for the glutamate industry to overcome are the concerns of consumers who find that ingestion of monosodium glutamate and other glutamate-containing food additives cause adverse reactions such as migraine headache, heart irregularities, and depression, and the growing number of physicians and neuroscientists who, based on clinical practice and/or experience in the laboratory, warn that ingestion of monosodium glutamate places humans at risk. Industry’s vehicle for dealing with this has been the double-blind study, rigged to encourage industry-sponsored researchers to conclude that once again there has been a study done that has failed to find that monosodium glutamate is in any way harmful.

Ajinomoto’s organization: its structure…

In response to the first reports of brain damage and adverse reactions following ingestion of monosodium glutamate, Ajinomoto Co., Inc., possibly the world’s largest producer of free glutamic acid and monosodium glutamate (and producer of many other individual amino acids), established a nonprofit corporation to represent its interests. The International Glutamate Technical Committee (IGTC) was organized in 1969 as an association of member companies engaged in manufacture, sale, and commercial use of glutamates. They sponsor, gather, and disseminate research on the use and safety of monosodium glutamate; design and implement research protocols and provide financial assistance to researchers; promote acceptance of monosodium glutamate as a food ingredient; and represent members’ collective interests. Those collective interests are to sell monosodium glutamate. The IGTC is an association of individuals, companies, and staff, composed of physicians and/or scientists employed by producers or users of glutamic acid and its salts or doing research on it in university laboratories (1).

Ajinomoto’s research strategies…

The premise that monosodium glutamate is safe for human consumption is based on human research essentially underwritten, designed, and implemented by the IGTC. Researchers have:

1) Selected subjects who might not be sensitive to the product;

2) Reduced the likelihood that subjects would react to monosodium glutamate test material;

3) Used toxic or allergenic material in placebos;

4) Used too few subjects, so there would be inadequate statistical power to produce a significant difference between adverse reactions of test subjects and placebo subjects, or to find a significant relationship between the experimental variable and the measured outcome;

5) Applied statistical tests to research designs that do not meet the tests’ underlying assumptions;

6) Focused on non-relevant variables;

7) Ignored relevant data.

Reviewed individually, inappropriate handling of subjects, methodology, and/or statistical analysis in any one study might be attributed to shoddy science or sloppy scholarship. However, there is sameness in these studies which lies in the fact that methodology virtually guarantees that no statistically significant difference between subjects treated with monosodium glutamate and subjects treated another way will be found; and/or no significant relationship will be found between two or more variables being investigated. Researchers, then, can “legitimately” conclude that subjects who were given monosodium glutamate did not have more reactions than subjects given a placebo, or subjects consuming greater quantities of monosodium glutamate did not become taller, shorter, fatter, or thinner, and did not have more adverse reactions or higher blood pressure than others. It is these studies that industry points to when claiming that monosodium glutamate is safe, or when claiming that the safety (never toxicity) of monosodium glutamate is controversial. We submit, however, that since industry bases its claim for the safety of monosodium glutamate on these studies, industry itself has demonstrated that ingestion of monosodium glutamate places consumers at risk. There really is no controversy.

Reference

  1. Samuels A. The toxicity/safety of processed free glutamic acid (MSG): a study in suppression of information. Account Res. 1999;6:259-310.

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.

Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS, epilepsy and 10+ other diseases all have this in common

It looks like Ajinomoto is fighting tooth and nail, pulling out all the stops to convince the public that their brain damaging (excitotoxic) monosodium glutamate (MSG) is harmless. They’re pouring millions of dollars into buying advertising space in newspapers throughout the world, issuing press releases, covertly publishing YouTube commercials dressed up as news, buying testimonials from celebrity chef, sports personalities, and good-looking young women who call themselves “sci moms.” They’ve mastered brainwashing on social media. Yet people keep getting sick after eating MSG. Not everyone, of course, just lots of people. And Ajinomoto’s MSG sales have been slipping.

There’s something else, too. Scientists are beginning to realize that somehow glutamate has something to do with increases in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, ALS, autism, schizophrenia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), epilepsy, ischemic stroke, seizures, Huntington’s disease, addiction, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), frontotemporal dementia, and autism. No one has yet identified a cause and effect relationship, but the scientific community now recognizes that glutamate is associated with each of them. Data? A January 18, 2020 Medine search (www.pubmed.gov) for “glutamate-induced,” returned 3742 references.

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.

$cience for sale

If you’ve seen one creative combination of brain-washing and out-and-out lies, you’ve seen them all.

But this article that appeared in Food Safety Magazine is special. Special because Andrew G. Ebert signed his name to it. To appreciate why “Whatever Happened to Sound Food Science” is so special – so poetic — you have to know that Andrew G. Ebert was Ajinomoto’s “scientist” in the United States rigging studies of the safety of MSG so that his researchers could claim “once more” they had been unable to find anything that suggested MSG was toxic.

You can read all about Big Food’s friend “Andy Ebert” on our webpage. We call him “The Architect of it All” because he did just about everything for Ajinomoto short of manufacturing the MSG. He not only designed the rigged research for them, but put together a committee of esteemed “scientists” who walked his protocols over to the offices of the FDA and had them approved by the agency before the studies were published. Ebert faded from sight, and there were no more double-blind studies after Jack Samuels, co-founder of the Truth in Labeling Campaign, ratted on him. That’s how the Glutes do it. No apology. Not even discussion. Just ignore the evil things you’ve done and hope that no one will remember.

Read Ebert’s bio and note three things:

Andrew G. Ebert, Ph.D., FIFT, CFS, is a noted food industry pharmacologist and toxicologist. He has served as an official observer at numerous meetings of the Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Codex Alimentarius Food Standards Programme and is on the Expert Committee on Food Ingredients of the Food Chemicals Codex. He previously served on FDA’s Food Advisory Committee.

First, Ebert is everywhere, a man of good reputation, serving on committees of organizations like the World Health Organization (and testifying to the fact that MSG is “safe”); he has served on the FDA’s Food Advisory Committees (in a position reserved for consumers); and nowhere does it mention the fact that for years he was chairman of Ajinomoto’s International Glutamate Technical Committee, running their U.S. research arm while Richard Cristol ran their merchandising/propaganda campaigns.

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.

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.