Commentary – Expert Opinion: Monosodium Glutamate
Produced under the banner of the University of Nebraska by one of the glutamate industry's foremost spokespersons.
Designed and used to convince the public to use foods that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG) and, apparently, to encourage food producers to mislabel products that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG).
The Truth in Labeling Campaign has known of the work of the industry-sponsored International Food Information Council (IFIC) for a long time. We have long known of Steve Taylor's work as a spokesperson for The Glutamate Association and the International Glutamate Technical Committee. We have known of Steve Taylor's role in the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, which itself has strong ties to the glutamate industry. But until very recently, we didn't know about Steve Taylor's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Food Allergy Research & Resource Program, at the University of Nebraska, which produced the Taylor/Hefle EXPERT OPINION: MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE.
We invite you to read the Taylor/Hefle EXPERT OPINION: MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE and then use your browser's back arrow to return to this page for our commentary.
The Truth in Labeling Campaign's comments on "Expert Opinion: Monosodium Glutamate:"
The "Expert Opinion: Monosodium Glutamate," by Steve Taylor and Sue Hefle is a classic example of glutamate industry propaganda designed and used to convince the public to use foods that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG) and, apparently, to encourage food producers to mislabel products that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG). It comes from Taylor's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Food Allergy Research & Resource Program (FARRP) at the University of Nebraska. According to FARRP's Web site, FARRP's purpose is to "…help the food industry address one of its most daunting challenges." Membership is open to "food processors, food manufacturers, ingredient manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and other companies involved in the food processing industry."
Steve Taylor has been speaking out on the "safety" of MSG for many years. In the early 1990s, he claimed to be "just passing through" San Francisco when he stopped in to a City/County hearing to testify to the "safety" of MSG. Jack Samuels testified to the toxic effects of MSG at that hearing.
A number of years ago, Taylor appeared with Samuels on a small market television program discussing MSG. That was the only time Samuels heard him admit to being a spokesperson for the glutamate industry. We have to chuckle when we remember how Taylor left the studio very quickly after the show, possibly because he had looked so bad on the show. In fact, the moderator asked him toward the end of the show if he wanted Samuels dead. Since that time, the glutamate industry has never again asked to debate Samuels, nor have they denied that Samuels is MSG sensitive.
To the best of our knowledge, neither Steve Taylor nor his associate, Sue Hefle, has ever conducted any research on MSG. They do, however, appear at meetings and produce papers, such as the Expert Opinion, to claim that MSG is safe. Interestingly, they are always introduced as being at the University of Nebraska in some capacity – never exposed as spokespersons for the International Glutamate Technical Committee or some other arm of the glutamate industry – which they are.
The "Expert Opinion: Monosodium Glutamate" by Taylor and Hefle is typical of the type of propaganda we have learned to expect from the glutamate organizations and the people they have assembled to support them. It is filled with half truths and outright misinformation, and can, in our opinion, be most generously characterized as misleading and deceptive. In addition to the half truths and outright misinformation, the Expert Opinion resorts to two of the glutamate industry's fundamental ploys: 1) failing to define terms and thereby creating confusion, and 2) making light of, putting down, or making disparaging remarks about people who are sensitive to processed free glutamic acid, researchers who have found that processed free glutamic acid causes adverse reactions, and/or anyone who claims that processed free glutamic acid causes adverse reactions.
Steve Taylor, Ph.D., is an educated man. We have to think that if what he has written is deceptive and misleading, he meant it to be that way.
It appears that Taylor and Hefle have contrived the Expert Opinion to serve three ends:
1) To justify and/or encourage producers to claim that a product that contains processed free glutamic acid in an ingredient other than the food ingredient "monosodium glutamate," can be labeled "No MSG" or "No MSG Added."
Manufacturers of processed foods know that there is a market for processed foods that do not contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Claiming "No MSG," "No MSG Added," or "No Added MSG" on labels of foods that contain processed free glutamic acid was very popular in mid 2003 when the Expert Opinion was written. You will still find that claim made today.
If processed free glutamic acid (MSG) were identified on the labels of foods that contained it, consumers would be able to tell whether or not they were sensitive to MSG, while failure to identify MSG on products that contain it makes identification of MSG sensitivity difficult. Claims of "No MSG," "No MSG Added," or "No Added MSG" on products that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG) – if those claims are believed – make identification of sensitivity to MSG virtually impossible. Those who produce and/or use processed free glutamic acid in their products count on consumers not being able to be certain that their sensitivities are due to processed free glutamic acid (MSG).
If the amount of free glutamic acid were disclosed on food labels, people would be able to determine their tolerance levels and, therefore, would, if they chose to, be able to purchase MSG-containing foods that would not cause them to experience adverse reactions.
2) To provide justification for the argument that if identification of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in processed food is ever mandated, the processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in ingredients that contained less than 3 grams processed free glutamic acid (MSG) would not have to be disclosed.
Since there are few, if any, processed foods that contain more than 3 grams processed free glutamic acid (MSG) per serving, there would be little, if any, identification of processed free glutamic acid (MSG).
3) To bolster the claim that neither the ingredient "monosodium glutamate" nor any other ingredients that contains processed free glutamic acid (MSG) causes adverse reactions.
Following are a few illustrations of how the Expert Opinion of Taylor and Hefle is deceptive and misleading.
Paragraph 1 starts right out confusing terms.
1. In the Expert Opinion, no distinction is made between 1) the L-glutamic acid found in higher organisms such as fruits, vegetables, and animals, which does not cause adverse reactions, and 2) the processed free glutamic acid which is inevitably accompanied by contaminants, and which causes adverse reactions in a substantial portion of our population. The literature clearly states that more than 25% of the population reacted adversely to the amounts of MSG found in processed foods in the 1970s.
What distinction should have been made? The glutamic acid found in higher organisms is composed of L-glutamic acid, only, and is without contaminants. L-glutamic acid found unadulterated in higher organisms does not cause adverse reactions.
Processed free glutamic acid contains more than L-glutamic acid. It invariably contains contaminants such as D-glutamic acid and pyroglutamic acid, and, in some cases, it contains carcinogenic mono and dichloro propanols. The L-glutamic acid in processed free glutamic acid is accompanied by contaminants when the flavor enhancer, "monosodium glutamate," is produced as well as when processed free glutamic acid appears in ingredients with names other than "monosodium glutamate." Processed free glutamic acid causes adverse reactions in people who are sensitive to it, providing that they ingest amounts that exceed their tolerances for processed free glutamic acid.
2. In the Expert Opinion, more than one meaning is assigned to the phrase "monosodium glutamate." "Monosodium glutamate" is first used as the name of the ingredient, "monosodium glutamate." Then, in the same paragraph, monosodium glutamate is used for any free glutamic acid combined with sodium: "The breakdown of proteins can result in the formation of free glutamate, also known as monosodium glutamate (MSG) when combined with sodium."
3. In the Expert Opinion more than one meaning is assigned to the term "MSG." The term, "MSG" is used as shorthand for the food ingredient known as "monosodium glutamate." It is also used as shorthand for the processed free glutamic acid found in ingredients.
FDA regulations pertaining to other than "natural flavors" and "natural flavorings" require that every ingredient used in a product be listed on the product's label by its "common or usual name." "Monosodium glutamate" is the name of a product and must, by law, appear on a label when "monosodium glutamate" is the product or is used in a product.
The consumer will never see the acronym "MSG" listed on a product's ingredient list. "MSG" is not the common or usual name of any ingredient. Products that contain processed free glutamic acid, like all other products, must be identified by their common or usual names – names like autolyzed yeast, sodium caseinate, monosodium glutamate, and hydrolyzed soy protein. So nothing is going to be labeled "MSG."
Given 1) that the acronym "MSG" is not the common or usual name of any food and can not be used to describe an ingredient, and 2) that there is a whole industry devoted to inventing "clean labels," i.e., names to be used as common or usual names of ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid, but give consumers no clue to its presence, we can think of no reason for Taylor and Hefle's discussion about labeling unless they are suggesting that producers claim "No MSG," "No MSG Added," or "No Added MSG" on labels of food that contain processed free glutamic acid.
We find it difficult to believe that Steve Taylor, Ph.D., might be unaware that Section 403(a)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits making such claims:
"SEC. 403. [21 U.S.C. 343] A food shall be deemed to be misbranded—
(a) If (1) its labeling is false or misleading in any particular, or (2) in the case of a food to which section 411 applies, its advertising is false or misleading in a material respect or its labeling is in violation of section 411(b)(2)."
or that he might be unaware that the FDA, in its "FDA Backgrounder" dated August 31, 1995, stated that such labeling is deceptive and misleading and that such products would be considered by the FDA to be mislabeled:
"Under current FDA regulations, when [monosodium glutamate] is added to a food, it must be identified as "monosodium glutamate" in the label's ingredient list. Each ingredient used to make a food must be declared by its name in this list.
"While technically [monosodium glutamate] is only one of several forms of free glutamate used in foods, consumers frequently use the term MSG to mean all free glutamate. For this reason, FDA considers foods whose labels say "No MSG" or "No Added MSG" to be misleading if the food contains ingredients that are sources of free glutamates, such as hydrolyzed protein."
Paragraph 2 of the Expert Opinion gives every evidence of being designed to reinforce the glutamate industry argument that if processed free glutamic acid caused adverse reactions, virtually everything that we ate would cause adverse reactions – the reason given by the glutamate industry being that there is lots and lots of glutamic acid in most of our food. The flaw in this argument is that while there is a great deal of bound L-glutamic acid, and possibly some small amount of free L-glutamic acid, in unprocessed, unfermented, unadulterated food, unfermented, unadulterated glutamic acid (whether in bound or free form) will not cause adverse reactions. It is only processed free glutamic acid that causes adverse reactions.
In Paragraph 2, the Expert Opinion states that MSG occurs naturally in virtually all foods, but again doesn't tell us what "MSG" means here. However, neither the food ingredient "monosodium glutamate" nor any processed free glutamic acid found in ingredients other than "monosodium glutamate" occur naturally in unprocessed, unfermented, unadulterated food. So the statement that "MSG occurs naturally in virtually all foods" is untrue. No matter how "MSG" is defined/used in the Expert Opinion, "MSG" contains processed free glutamic acid; and processed free glutamic acid does not occur naturally in unprocessed/unfermented/unadulterated food.
Paragraph 2 also gives figures for "naturally-occurring glutamate in variety of foods." We are told that the "naturally-occurring glutamate" is free, but no distinction between fresh/unadulterated food and processed food is made. Five products are listed. "Fresh tomatoes" and possibly "corn" are unprocessed ingredients. "Tomato paste," "Parmesan cheese," and "soy sauce" are clearly processed/manufactured. Finally, Taylor and Hefle claim that their figures represent levels of free, naturally-occurring glutamate in these products without defining what "naturally-occurring" means.
Fresh tomatoes 2270 ppm
Tomato paste 6240-6360 ppm
Corn 240-500 ppm
Parmesan cheese 3640-12,700 ppm
Soy sauce 490-10,200 ppm
The reference for the list is an FDA paper by Daniels, Joe, and Diachenko, published in Food Additives and Contaminants (Daniels, Joe, and Diachenko, 1995). The study contains material errors that invalidate the conclusions drawn in the study. For example, the FDA study by Daniels, Joe, and Diachenko overstated the amount of free L-glutamic acid in tomatoes by 100 times. If we were to correct the figures used by Taylor and Hefle, we would find that there is relatively little free glutamic acid in unadulterated food, but relatively great amounts in processed food. So while it is true that L-glutamic acid occurs naturally in virtually all unadulterated, unfermented, unprocessed food, Taylor and Hefle have shown us by their example from Daniels, et. al, that there is a relatively great amount of processed free glutamate in processed food.
We have a letter from the FDA in our files that acknowledges the fact that errors were made in the Daniels, et.al study; but the FDA did not take any action to have the journal publish corrections. Moreover, questions in the form of Letters to the Editor were refused publication by the journal Food Additives and Contaminants.
People associated with the glutamate industry, such as Taylor and Hefle, still refer to the badly flawed Daniels et. al study as evidence that processed free glutamic acid does not cause adverse reactions.
Paragraph 3 is a good illustration of the glutamate industry's choosing words to suit its own purposes.
Reports of MSG sensitivity were first published in the USA in 1968, not long after Ajinomoto Co., Inc. began producing "monosodium glutamate" made through fermentation of genetically modified bacteria that secrete glutamic acid (glutamic acid and contaminants) through their cell walls. Taylor and Hefle merely stated that "Reports of MSG sensitivity have existed for many years."
What Taylor and Hefle call "The classic example of MSG sensitivity…" is not a "classic example" at all, but merely a slightly expanded version of the description of the first published report of an adverse reaction following ingestion of Chinese food. Today, professionals outside of the employ or influence of the glutamate industry recognize that adverse reactions to processed free glutamic acid include, but are not limited to, such varied and diverse conditions as migraine headache, asthma, seizures, hives, simple skin rash, cardiac arrhythmia, tachycardia, and depression. Virtually every clinic in the United States that deals with migraine headache acknowledges that "monosodium glutamate" is a migraine headache trigger; and virtually every emergency room physician has seen cases of tachycardia and arrhythmia that resolve as soon as processed free glutamic acid that has been ingested clears the system.
Numerous human challenge trials have been conducted or funded by Ajinomoto Co., Inc., their agents, and their friends in the glutamate industry, to bolster the claim that "monosodium glutamate" does not cause adverse reactions. They have designed their studies with subject selection, test and placebo materials used, duration of the study period, and other variables is such a way that reactions to processed free glutamic acid might be minimal. They have even used placebos laced with a neurotoxic amino acid (aspartic acid) known to cause the same reaction as those caused by processed free glutamic acid; and when it happened that subjects reacted to both the processed free glutamic acid test material and the aspartic acid laced so-called placebo (which they inevitably would), they had the nerve to claim that finding subjects reacting to both test and so-called placebo materials proved that subjects were not sensitive to processed free glutamic acid, i.e., finding subjects reacting to two neurotoxic materials was said to prove that none of the subjects were sensitive to processed free glutamic acid. They continue, even today, to refer to this same badly flawed body of research and make the same claim for the "safety" of processed free glutamic acid.
Incidentally, in none of the industry sponsored studies, such as the Tarassoff and Kelly study (not cited in the Expert Opinion), were readers informed that there were neurotoxic amino acids in the placebo. Geha et al., who were cited in the Expert Opinion, designed their study using neurotoxic aspartic acid in their placebos, but were forced to change their placebos when their duplicity was disclosed. It took Geha et al. four more years to complete their study, which they did using an ingredient in their placebos that contained processed free glutamic acid – an ingredient that few people would recognize as containing processed free glutamic acid.
There are 10 references given in Paragraph 3. Disregarding the FDA study (reference 1), the FDA funded FASEB report (reference 2), and the study by Allen, Delohrey and Baker (reference 5), all researchers cited were funded directly or indirectly by the glutamate industry.
Paragraph 3 also covers the subject of dosage as does Paragraph 4. Taylor and Hefle state that, "a few individuals may react with … mild, subjective symptoms when exposed to doses of MSG in excess of 3 g…" That, of course is true, but as is so often the case with glutamate industry propaganda, it is only part of the truth. There are individuals who react with mild…symptoms when exposed to doses of MSG; but there are also individuals who react with debilitating and life threatening reactions such as seizures, migraine headache, rage reactions, tachycardia, cardiac arrhythmia, irritable bowel, swelling of hemorrhoids and/or anus area, disorientation, mental confusion, anxiety, panic attacks, hyperactivity, shortness of breath, and asthma. The rest of the truth is that while there are individuals who react to doses of MSG in excess of 3 grams, there are also individuals who react to doses of less than 3 grams MSG – just as there are individuals who react to minute amounts of peanut butter. Taylor and Hefle have failed to mention – as glutamate industry representatives always fail to mention – that no research even attempting to identify the least amounts of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) needed to cause adverse reactions in MSG-sensitive people has ever been done.
It cannot be pointed out too many times that careful analysis of glutamate industry strategy suggests that should the FDA ever be forced to reveal the presence of processed free glutamic acid in processed food, the glutamate industry and the FDA will try to convince the public that it takes such a large amount of processed free glutamic acid to cause a reaction that only amounts in excess of 3 grams per ingredient need be labeled.
Taylor and Hefle are not the only glutamate industry friends who have made the claim that 3 grams or more of processed free glutamic acid are needed to cause an adverse reaction. FDA Deputy Commissioner David Hattan, Ph.D., a man who gives every appearance of being one of the glutamate industry's best friends at the FDA, has made that claim, also – even in face of the fact that the 3 gram figure is quite at odds with the findings of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). FASEB, in a 1995 report, stated clearly that the minimum amount of processed free glutamic acid needed to cause adverse reactions had not been determined. Jack Samuels, for one, has come close to death on at least two occasions from minute amounts of processed free glutamic acid.
Steve Taylor knows full well that people with allergies or sensitivities can react to minute amounts of the offending substance. Taylor often tells the story of a young girl with a peanut allergy who used a knife that had been used for peanut butter and wiped clean with a paper towel before she used the knife to make a butter sandwich and died. More recently, a young girl in Canada with a peanut allergy died from a kiss from a boy who had eaten a peanut butter sandwich.
Paragraph 5 focuses on asthma. Here, again, the amount of processed free glutamic acid needed to cause an adverse reaction is the focus of discussion.
In paragraph 5, the Expert Opinion states "While it is not impossible to ingest 3 g of MSG in a single meal, it would be a very uncommon occurrence." Yet, quite to the contrary, some years ago, the FDA acknowledged that 5 to 6 g of processed free glutamic acid could be ingested in a single meal. The statement of Taylor and Hefle is clearly irresponsible.
The Expert Opinion refers to "rather large doses of MSG of 2 g or more," eliciting reactions in asthmatics. The fact is that one subject in an asthma study reacted to 1/2 gram of processed free glutamic acid; and there has been no attempt made in any asthma study to determine the lowest level of processed free glutamic acid that would elicit an asthmatic attack.
Paragraph 6 resorts to name calling. According to Taylor and Hefle, most of the reports of adverse reactions to processed free glutamic acid are either anecdotal or were conducted with very poor experimental designs. "Anecdotal," the glutamate industry would have us believe, is a bad word. In addition, those of us who have read the glutamate industry literature have found that "very poor experimental design" seems to apply to any study wherein processed free glutamic acid is found to cause adverse reactions. We would hazard a guess that the "very poor experimental design" studies don't use placebos laced with neurotoxic amino acids that cause the same adverse reactions that are caused by processed free glutamic acid – like the glutamate industry sponsored studies do.
The Expert Opinion referenced the findings of Kenney regarding the safety of MSG. Taylor and Hefle failed to mention that Kenney appears to have produced glutamate industry funded studies regarding the "safety" of MSG each time that the safety of MSG was challenged. Before accepting funding from the glutamate industry, Kenney and Tidball reported that approximately 30% of the population reacted to MSG:
"Thirty-two percent of the persons tested responded at the 5-g level when challenged by a single placebo-controlled exposure."
FARRP makes no pretense at being anything but a food industry funded organization. In our opinion, it is through the efforts of organizations such as FARRP that potentially honest businessmen are being confused about the MSG issue, and the health of our nation is deteriorating.
What we really need is full disclosure of free glutamic acid in processed foods, with the amount stated in milligrams, on processed food labels. If that were done, there would be no question on the part of consumers as to whether or not they were sensitive to the substance. If processed free glutamic acid is safe, as claimed by such people as Taylor and Hefle, the glutamate industry should have no problem with having such disclosure.