The letters might have gone unnoticed, but the very next year a young researcher from Washington University in St. Louis reported that food additive monosodium glutamate caused brain lesions in laboratory animals, and those brain lesions led to significant disruptions of the endocrine system – marking monosodium glutamate as an endocrine disruptor.
In 1957, Lucas and Newhouse had noticed that severe retinal lesions could be produced in suckling mice (and to some extent in adult mice) by a single injection of glutamate (26). Studies confirming their findings using neonatal rodents (49-52) and adult rabbits (53) followed shortly, with others being reported from time to time (54-58).
In the late 60s, Olney had become suspicious that obesity in mice which was 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 given 5 to 7 mg/g of glutamate subcutaneously (59).
The Ajinomoto Company, a leading manufacturer of monosodium glutamate, responded immediately. In 1969, the International Glutamate Technical Committee (IGTC) was founded. Andrew G. Ebert, Ph.D. took credit as its founder. Ajinomoto’s role was not disclosed. The IGTC sponsored, gathered, and disseminated research on the use and safety of monosodium glutamate; designed and implemented research protocols and provided financial assistance to researchers; promoted acceptance of monosodium glutamate as a food ingredient; and represented members' collective interests. Those collective interests were to sell monosodium glutamate. Ajinomoto was its principal sponsor. There is every indication that its financial resources were unlimited.
The focus of researchers as representatives of the glutamate industry has always been to demonstrate that use of monosodium glutamate is "safe." The early research of both Richard Kenney and Roland Auer had suggested that glutamic acid might have toxic potential, while their subsequent studies and/or public statements proclaimed that MSG is safe. Their change in focus coincided with research support provided by the glutamate industry.
The glutamate industry’s International Glutamate Information Service (IGIS) Web site told us that, "the science which supports our understanding of the role of glutamate in human nutrition and health has been conducted at [the following] prestigious institutions and universities around the world:
Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA, USAFrom the literature, we know that glutamate industry sponsored research has also been conducted at:
Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
University of Pittsburgh, USA
Mario Negri Institute, Milan, Italy”
The University of Iowa
The University of Illinois at the Medical Center, Chicago
The University of California, Davis
The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
Harvard University, School of Public Health
Huntingdon Research Centre
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Nestle Products Technical Assistance Co., Ltd
Ajinomoto Co., Inc., Central Research Laboratories
George Washington University Medical Center
University of Texas Health Science Center
Medical College of Virginia
Scripps Clinic, La Jolla, California
V.A. Medical Center and the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas, Dallas.
University of Western Sydney, Australia, Macarthur Campus, Faculty of Business and Technology
Istituto Nazionale della Nutrizione, Citta Universitaria
Istituto Istologia ed Embriologia, Fac. Scienze, Citta Universitaria
Suppress unfavorable information. When contradictory or embarrassing information has been published in books or journals, those in positions of power block media coverage. When criticism of industry research is offered for publication, editors refuse to publish those critiques. When criticism of deceptive and misleading research reports is anticipated, researchers publish in journals that do not accept comment following publication.
Disseminate deceptive and/or misleading information. We sometimes refer to these statements as lies. Some are trivial. Some are not. But all are designed to sell product.
Statement: Monosodium glutamate has been in use for over 2,000 years.
Fact: Monosodium glutamate was invented in 1908, and reformulated in 1957.
Statement: The reactions to monosodium glutamate are mild and transitory.
Fact: Asthma, migraine headache, depression, atrial fibrillation, and seizures are just a few of the abnormalities known to be triggered by MSG.
Statement: 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. 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.
Statement: No one will react to less than 3 grams of MSG.
Fact: Not true.
Statement: 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 4 hours after ingestion and last for days.
Statement: MSG is naturally occurring.
Fact: MSG is manufactured.
Comment: That does sound good, doesn’t it? Then again, by FDA definition, arsenic is "naturally occurring." Industry gets mileage from talking about MSG being "naturally occurring." And the FDA cooperates by refusing to define the term.
Statement: There is a great deal of free glutamic acid in tomatoes. Therefore, glutamic acid does not cause adverse reactions.
Fact 1: There may be more free glutamic acid in unadulterated tomatoes than there is in other unadulterated vegetables, but it's not "a great deal" when compared to the amounts of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in processed food. It is at most a minute amount.
Fact 2: The extremely small amount of free glutamic acid in unadulterated tomatoes – which does not cause adverse reactions -- is not manufactured/fabricated. Its glutamic acid is L-glutamic acid, only. There is no D-glutamic acid in unadulterated tomatoes. Only manufactured free glutamic acid – which contains L-glutamic acid, D-glutamic acid, and other impurities -- causes adverse reactions. The glutamic acid in unadulterated tomatoes is L-glutamic acid, only.
Statement: L-glutamic acid is L-glutamic acid no matter what the source, i.e., no matter what material it is made from.
Fact: The statement is true. It is also irrelevant. Toxicity is associated with processed/manufactured glutamic acid – no matter what the source.
Statement: No study done in the 1980s and 1990s has shown that processed free glutamic acid in any form causes brain lesions.
Fact: The statement is true, irrelevant, and grossly misleading. The studies of the 1970s demonstrating that glutamic acid causes brain lesions were so well done, and so often replicated, that by the 1980’s glutamic acid was being used as a tool to selectively kill brain cells. Researchers weren’t wasting their time in the 1980s and 1990s replicating research that didn’t need replicating.
Statement: There is no evidence that.......
Fact: No study of that subject has ever been done.
Statement: The blood brain barrier protects the brain from excesses of monosodium glutamate.
Fact: The blood brain barrier, once thought to prevent glutamate from exogenous (outside) sources 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; and, in the area of the circumventricular organs (which includes the arcuate nucleus), is leaky at best at any stage of life.
In October, 1994, the Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC) was formed to promote truth in labeling, with its first project being full and clear labeling of MSG. In August, 1995 TLC sued the FDA and announced plans for fund raising.
In October, 1995, the Washington Post ran a story about the Truth in Food Labeling Campaign--formed by Public Voice for Food and Health Policy and the National Consumers League, for the purpose of raising funds to combat the use of mechanically separated poultry (MSP). It seemed like an innocent coincidence–until the sponsors refused to reveal the source of the grant money given to them to set up the Truth in Food Labeling Campaign, and elaborate on projects that had been planned for the future.
In an effort to generate publicity, TLC contracted with Bacons Communications to send out press releases announcing the suit filed against the FDA. Bacons provides clipping services, mailing services, and media directories. They have offices in Chicago, Illinois. On the day following the day the releases were to go out, TLC began getting inquiries about incomplete information that had been received by fax--often a cover page, only. After receiving several such inquiries, it was ascertained that Bacons had held the releases they had been paid to send out; sending them out the day after the suit was filed, making them non-newsworthy. When inquiry was made, it became clear that the error was not due to a misunderstanding of instructions or to equipment breakdown.
In 1994, Adrienne attended an Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Short Course, "Allergies and other Adverse Reactions to Foods, Additives and Ingredients" sponsored by the IFT, The Food Allergy Center, and the University of Nebraska Food Processing Center. Presenters were Daryl Altman; Betty P. Rauch, M.B.A., Allerx Inc.; Daniel J. Skrypec, Ph.D. Kraft General Foods; and Sean F. Altekruse, D.V.M., M.P.H., FDA. According to Altman, who said what little was said about MSG, presenters had been told that Adrienne would be in the audience. It was only after the presentation was over that it was discovered that prior to the presentation, Altman had given the press a manuscript that was replete with misinformation about the safety of MSG; while in her limited oral presentation, Altman had said nothing that might be questioned in public.
In a letter dated May 28, 1991, the FDA’s Dr. Fred Shank cited Adrienne’s letter of December 30, 1990 to FDA Commissioner David Kessler, significantly distorting the text of her letter to Kessler, and accusing her of actions she had not taken. In September of 1995, Dr. Rolan Auer wrote to Jack, citing a letter that he had written, significantly distorting the text of the letter Jack had written, and accusing him of saying things that he had not said. Were these distortions set up for some purpose? Were we supposed to be angry and say things we would later regret? Were we supposed to sue Shank or Auer? Were we supposed to be frightened? Or were they just planning for the future: putting something false into print, and then, if needed later for propaganda purposes, being prepared to quote it as though it were true?
It has been mentioned elsewhere that those doing research for the IGTC used neurotoxic aspartic acid (in aspartame) in their placebos. In anticipation of (or response to) criticism, it was offered that anyone who wanted to check out the contents of their placebos was welcome to come to one of their test sites and take a sample placebo from the group they had set aside to allay such concerns. Would anyone be naive enough to believe that a placebo set aside by the IGTC would be identical to those being use in IGTC research? Placebo samples offered to the public by “scientists” who laced their placebos with excitotoxin aspartame might very well be different from the ones given to subjects.
Most fun was the fax machine. I don’t remember what our project was at the time, but along with faxing things to our children and our accountant, we were faxing information of one sort or another to people who were interested in the safety/toxicity of MSG. While it seemed to work most of the time, when I would fax a document that had something to do with MSG, or someone would fax a similar document to me, the machine would do a few pages and then stop. I finally got so annoyed that I carried the fax machine down the hill to a repair shop. “Sorry lady,” the repair man said, “I can’t fix it cause it isn’t broken.”
Is a fax machine that falters only when material pertaining to the toxicity of MSG is being transmitted a dirty trick? Is it a dirty trick to lie about the nature and severity of MSG reactions? Is it a dirty trick to tell people who might be MSG-sensitive to have themselves tested by an allergist when the reaction to MSG is a sensitivity reaction, and no traditional allergy test will identify it?
Whatever you call them, there have been many. And I suspect we haven’t noticed them all.
7) Convince both appointed and elected officials to endorse monosodium glutamate as a harmless food additive.
They’re called lobbyists. They do most of Ajinomoto’s work in this area.
8) Legitimize the existence of monosodium glutamate.
After years of funding studies aimed at renaming glutamate receptors in the mouth and on the tongue – calling them taste receptors -- Ajinomoto finally succeeded in having their studies published and then publicized in main-stream media where glutamate receptors were renamed “umami” receptors. From that point, Ajinomoto launched a propaganda campaign designed to make “the taste of MSG" synonymous with “umami,” and make “umami” a household word.
What is “umami?” It’s a hypothetical construct invented by Ajinomoto to legitimize and promote the use of monosodium glutamate in food. Think about it. Monosodium glutamate is a neurotoxic food additive – a neurotoxic flavor enhancer; an excitotoxin -- a brain-damaging poison and endocrine disruptor. But by rebranding monosodium glutamate and promoting its new name (umami), and suppressing information about the toxic potential of monosodium glutamate, Ajinomoto continues to profit from sales of monosodium glutamate – when the better option might be to bar Ajinomoto from doing business in this country.
9) Change the rules of the game as needed.
Over the years, while their mission to promote the sale of monosodium glutamate has remained the same, the glutamate-industry game plan has changed. In 1969, following Olney’s demonstration that monosodium glutamate kills brain cells in the area of the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, the glutamate industry sponsored animal studies that claimed to replicate the work of Olney and others but did not do so. In the series of industry-sponsored studies which claimed to have found no damage caused by monosodium glutamate, researchers used animal subjects that differed from Olney’s; waited to examine brain tissue until all traces of brain damage would have disappeared; offered analyses of brain tissue in areas outside of the arcuate nucleus; and used inappropriate methods for staining and examining brain tissue.
In the late 1970’s, the neurotoxic effects of monosodium glutamate became undeniable. Neuroscientists were actually using monosodium glutamate as an ablative or provocative tool with which to selectively kill brain cells in order to study brain function and promote drug development. Undaunted, those in the glutamate industry simply began to claim that animal research did not speak to the toxicity of monosodium glutamate because research done on animals did not represent the human condition. The FDA never blinked an eye.
By and large, the IGTCs human studies commenced in 1980 with research that “failed to produce any evidence that monosodium glutamate causes asthma or Chinese restaurant syndrome.” And that was a slam dunk. All they had to do was look at the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in people who were not sensitive to MSG, and for good measure, lace their placebos with excitotoxic aspartame and/or ingredients other than monosodium glutamate that contained excitotoxic processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Then the propaganda people could spin the story till it read that monosodium glutamate is safe.
By and large, the IGTCs double blind human studies became history in 1995 after publication of the Analysis of Adverse Reactions to Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), done by the Life Sciences Research Office, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) for the FDA. In that report, the fact that the IGTC was lacing their placebos with neurotoxic aspartame had been made public.
10) The fail-safe.
Only when there was threat that the toxicity of MSG might be exposed has Ajinomoto funded research studies, published pamphlets and a book, convened educational seminars, and embarked on large scale propaganda campaigns – all alleging the safety of monosodium glutamate and the safety of the toxic processed free glutamic acid contained in it.
In the year 2000, there appeared to be no threat of exposure of MSG toxicity. In 1995, the FDA had again pronounced MSG a harmless food additive. In 1995 the FDA had been sued over failure to label processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in food; and the lawsuit had been set aside. But just in case there might be future pressure to identify MSG in processed foods, Ajinomoto had devised a plan for dealing with it – and had even set the stage to insure its success. No longer would the glutamate industry focus on the claim that essentially no one is sensitive to MSG. Instead, Ajinomoto and friends would agree to labeling MSG – the catch being that MSG would be identified on food labels if, and only if, MSG was present in such large amounts that those large amounts would never be used in food – and the lesser amounts of MSG in processed foods would go unlabeled.
And what would the size of those large amounts of MSG be? How much MSG would have to be present in processed foods before the MSG in a particular processed food would have to be disclosed?
Review of analyses of the amounts of MSG in processed foods suggests that half a gram of MSG will trigger reactions in most people who believe that they are MSG-sensitive. A number of independent analyses were done some years ago on canned soups that were notorious for causing MSG reactions. Most of those soups contained about .6 grams of MSG per serving. None contained as much as one gram. Moreover, the label of Accent brand monosodium glutamate states (or stated) that one serving of pure monosodium glutamate is .5 grams of monosodium glutamate.
So how much MSG does it take to cause an adverse reaction? No one outside of the glutamate industry knows, because no one has even tried to do a systematic study that would give that information to the public. We know from a number of published reports of adverse reactions, that as little as .5 grams of MSG can cause adverse reactions. We also know that some MSG-sensitive people react to the minute amounts of MSG found in binders and fillers of pharmaceuticals – found in ingredients with names like maltodextrin and corn starch. But no study to determine the least amount of MSG that will cause a reaction has ever been published.
But Ajinomoto knows. They know that identifying three (3) grams or more MSG in processed foods would leave most MSG in processed food unlabeled. Failing to label/identify less than 3 grams of MSG in any ingredient or product would leave a great deal of MSG – actually most MSG -- hidden in the product that contained it.
The plan to establish 3 grams as the cut-off point for identifying MSG in processed food was set in motion years ago. Conveniently, David Allen, M.D had found that 3 grams of MSG could trigger asthma, and had published his research in a peer reviewed journal. That research would be cited by the glutamate industry as demonstrating the fact that 3 grams of MSG could cause an adverse reaction. And the question, “Could less than 3 grams MSG cause an adverse reaction?” would not be considered. However, industry had a problem with using Allen’s data, for Allen had also found that .5 grams of MSG could trigger asthma. And if that information surfaced, it could kill the 3-gram strategy.
Not a problem for Ajinomoto:
1. Begin by citing the research of Dr. Allen who had found that 3 grams of MSG could trigger asthma. And be sure not to mention the fact that Allen also reported that .5 grams of MSG could trigger asthma. Ajinomoto could point to a study published in a peer reviewed journal as its source of information.
2. Establish the 3-gram figure as the amount of MSG required to cause an MSG reaction as opposed to an amount of MSG that would cause an MSG reaction. History tells us that if Ajinomoto says it’s so, the FDA, USDA, American Medical Association, and American Dietetic Association (ADA) will follow suit.
While the glutamate industry was implementing their labeling scenario, the FDA was cooperating with them at every turn. In 1994, the IGTC found the 1994 final report of the “independent study” done for the FDA by FASEB to be inadequate because the subject of labeling had not been properly addressed; and the FDA returned the report to FASEB “for clarification.” In 1992, FASEB had undertaken a study of the safety of MSG in food, responding to 18 questions outlined for FASEB by the FDA. In September of 1994, a final report of that FASEB study had been sent to the FDA for the FDA's approval and publication. But the September 1994 final report became the "Draft Final Report," and the "Draft Final Report" was rejected by the FDA -- for "clarification."
What could have been so terribly wrong with the "Draft Final Report?" Maybe FASEB could not, or chose not to, cover up the fact that ingestion of MSG places consumers at risk, and that the Draft Final Report reflected their findings. We know for a fact that the "Draft Final Report" was in the hands of the glutamate industry prior to the FDA's call for "clarification." And we suspect that the glutamate industry, finding the report unacceptable, instructed the FDA to reject it. After all, that’s how Ajinomoto did it in 1978 when FASEB presented a report to the FDA that the glutamate industry found unacceptable. Ajinomoto and friends convened a symposium in Milan, Italy, submitted the Milan research reports (primarily industry sponsored) to the FDA, and had the 1978 FASEB/FDA report on the safety of MSG rewritten.
There must have been something terribly incriminating in the "Draft Final Report" because despite seven Freedom of Information requests and a personal request to FDA Commissioner Jane Henney for a copy of the "Draft Final Report," our requests for a copy of the "Draft Final Report" were ignored. Ignored, that is, until congressional pressure to produce the "Draft Final Report" evidently became too great -- at which time we were told that the Report simply could not be found at the FDA; and that the FDA didn't think that FASEB would have it, either.
Following rejection of the "Draft Final Report," the contract between FASEB and the FDA was rewritten, directing FASEB, through the wording in their new contract, to come up with the conclusion that MSG reactions were not triggered by less than 3 grams MSG. When finally published in 1995, the FASEB report on the safety of monosodium glutamate in food read, in part:
“Despite the fragmented and limited data available, the Expert Panel concluded that there appears to be a subgroup of as yet not fully characterized asthmatic patients that may respond to oral challenges of doses of MSG that exceed 2.5 g per challenge”.
Following publication of the 1995 FASEB report, the FDA published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Regulations (ANPR), using the glutamate industry’s 3-gram figure:
“SUMMARY: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering establishing requirements for label information about the free
glutamate content of foods. The recent finding of the Federation of
American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) that oral ingestion
of 3 or more grams (g) of monosodium glutamate (MSG) without food can
cause adverse reactions in certain otherwise healthy individuals has
prompted the agency to consider what action is necessary to protect
consumers from inadvertently ingesting levels of MSG or other forms of
free glutamate that could cause an adverse reaction. Thus, the agency
seeks public comment…”
Please note that the ANPR was not a proposed rule. It was an announcement asking for comments on whether there should be a proposed rule. Since the Docket (96N-0244) was never closed, input to the ANPR was never evaluated. With the Court's decision to defer to the FDA on the matter of labeling MSG (60), the FDA dropped much of its pretense of considering labeling. According to conversation with Dockets Management on January 5, 2009, the ANPR was withdrawn in 2004.
3. Once the 3-gram figure had been established as the amount that would cause an MSG reaction, the research reported by David Allen would be discredited – just in case someone should later refer to the fact that Allen had also found that .5 grams of MSG could also cause reactions. The work of discrediting Dr. Allen was left to Drs. Simon and Stevenson or Scripps Clinic, LaJolla, California. Detail of the roles played by Simon and Stevenson will be found elsewhere.
The bottom line? If the issue of labeling MSG ever raised its ugly head again, the industry-friendly FDA could point to the rhetoric that established 3 grams as the amount of MSG that might cause an MSG reaction. And having established 3 grams as the amount of MSG that would cause an MSG reaction, the FDA would refuse to identify any of the millions of products containing less than 3 grams of MSG to which MSG-sensitive people would react.
Why all the fuss? What does industry have against labeling? It’s really quite simple. It’s called money. If the MSG in a product cannot easily be identified (if it is hidden), a consumer cannot easily determine if it was the MSG in a product that he or she ate that caused an adverse reaction. And industry, the FDA, and the medical community will continue to respond to reports of adverse reactions to MSG with the statement, “It couldn’t be MSG. It must have been something else.” Just like Ajinomoto’s Richard Cristol told Adrienne in 1989 about Jack’s reactions.
26. Lucas DR, Newhouse JP. The toxic effect of sodium-L-glutamate on the inner layers of the retina. AMA Arch Ophthalmol. 1957;58(2):193-201.
49. Potts AM, Modrell RW, Kingsbury C. Permanent fractionation of the electroretinogram by sodium glutamate. Am J Ophthalmol. 1960;50(Nov): 900-907.
50. Freedman JK, Potts AM. Repression of glutaminase I in the rat retina by administration of sodium L-glutamate. Invest Ophthalmol. 1962;1(Feb):118-121.
51. Freedman JK, Potts AM. Repression of glutaminase I in rat retina by administration of sodium L-glutamate. Invest Ophthal. 1963;2(June):252-258.
52. Potts AM. Selective action of chemical agents on individual retinal layers. In: Graymore CN, ed. Biochemistry of the retina. New York: Academic Press; 1965:155-161.
53. Hamatsu T. Experimental studies on the effect of sodium iodate and sodium L-glutamate on ERG and histological structure of retina in adult rabbits. Acta Soc Ophthalmol Jpn. 1964;68(11):1621-1636. (Abstract)
54. Hansson HA. Ultrastructure studies on long-term effects of MSG on rat retina. Virchows Arch [Zellpathol]. 1970;6(1):1-11.
55. Cohen AI. An electron microscopic study of the modification by monosodium glutamate of the retinas of normal and "rodless" mice. Am J Anat. 1967;120(2): 319-356.
56. Olney JW. Glutamate-induced retinal degeneration in neonatal mice. Electron-microscopy of the acutely evolving lesion. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 1969;28(3):455-474.
57. Hansson HA. Scanning electron microscopic studies on the long-term effects of sodium glutamate on the rat retina. Virchows Arch ABT B (Zellpathol). 1970; 4(4): 357-367.
58. Arees E, Sandrew B, Mayer J. MSG-induced optic pathway lesions in infant mice following subcutaneous injection. Fed Proc. 1971;30(2):287Abs (Abstract # 521).
59. Olney JW. Brain lesions, obesity, and other disturbances in mice treated with monosodium glutamate. Science. 1969;164(880):719-721.
60. Truth in Labeling Campaign, et al., Plaintiffs vs. Donna Shalala, et al., Defendants. Suit brought before the United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division. No. 4:95CV1633 TCM (August 29, 1995).