The Invention and Use of MSG Adrienne Samuels, Ph.D. and Jack Samuels
MSG MSG used as a food (drug, dietary supplement,
and cosmetic) additive
The food additive monosodium
glutamate was first used in the United
States in any quantity in the late 1940s.
According to Dr. George Schwartz,
author of "In Bad Taste: The MSG
Syndrome," although considerable effort
had been spent to introduce MSG to the
USA, little had been accomplished prior
to World War II. However, sometime
during the war, the use of monosodium
glutamate in Japanese soldiers' rations
was noticed, and in 1948, a symposium
on monosodium glutamate presided
over by the Chief Quartermaster of the
Armed Forces, was held in Chicago to
introduce monosodium glutamate to
members of the food industry.
By the 1960s, Accent, the leading
brand of the flavor enhancer called
monosodium glutamate, had become
a household word. Simultaneously,
hydrolyzed protein products such as
autolyzed yeast, sodium caseinate, and
hydrolyzed vegetable protein gained in
popularity. Every hydrolyzed protein
product or ingredient, regardless of
the name assigned to the ingredient,
contains processed (manufactured) free
glutamic acid (MSG) with the same
flavor-enhancing potential and the same
neurotoxic properties as the processed (manufactured) free glutamic
acid (MSG) present in monosodium glutamate.
The flavor-enhancing potential of the processed free glutamic acid
used in the flavor enhancer called monosodium glutamate and in the
fertilizer/pesticide product called AuxiGro WP Metabolic Primer
(AuxiGro), was discovered in Japan in 1908. Prior to that time, the
Japanese had used seaweed as a favorite flavor enhancer without
understanding that glutamic acid was its flavor-enhancing component.
The first monosodium glutamate produced was made by extracting
glutamic acid from seaweed.
From 1910 until 1956, the process underlying production of glutamic
acid and monosodium glutamate in Japan was one of extraction, a
slow and costly method. In 1956, the Japanese succeeded in producing
glutamic acid by means of 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.(7,8,9)
Even before the Japanese discovered the flavor potential of processed
free glutamic acid extracted from sea weed, the potential of freeing
glutamic acid from protein using acid hydrolysis was being explored in
Europe. There, crude gluten or other starting materials were hydrolyzed
by heating with hydrochloric acid.(8) At the time, the method was not
widely used. Today, however, there are literally thousands of products
that contain MSG produced from acid hydrolyzed proteins.
When monosodium glutamate was brought to the United States
in the years following World War II, it was still manufactured through
extraction. By 1956, however, after considerable research to identify
suitable strains of microorganisms for starting the requisite cultures,
Ajinomoto Co., Inc. had succeeded in producing glutamic acid through
a method of bacterial fermentation wherein bacteria (some, if not
all of which are genetically modified)(10) 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.(11) It was in or about
1957 that truly large-scale production
of glutamic acid and monosodium
glutamate through fermentation began.
In the U.S., regulation of food
additives has its roots in the 1938 Food
and Cosmetic Act. The 1958 Food
Additives Amendments (Code of Federal
Regulations, Title 21) changed the law
to read that manufacturers must show
"proof of a reasonable certainty that no
harm will result from the proposed us
of an additive." The intent of the law is
clear: "...to protect the public health,
to prohibit the use in food of additives
which have not been adequately tested
to establish their safety."
In the same year, the Delaney
clause was added. The Delaney clause
prohibits the use of any food additive
shown to cause cancer when fed to
either animals or humans.
Prior to 1958, there had been
little or no comment to the FDA on
the food ingredient called monosodium
glutamate, so following passage
of the Food Additives Amendments, monosodium glutamate was
grandfathered as generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Grandfathered,
yes. But never tested for safety. The safety of monosodium glutamate
was not then, and has never been, established. Monosodium glutamate
has never been tested for safety.
Also basic to the inappropriateness of monosodium glutamate
being awarded GRAS standing, is the fact that in or about 1957 the
method of producing monosodium glutamate was changed significantly.
The monosodium glutamate that was grandfathered GRAS in 1958 was
created by extracting glutamic acid from protein-containing ingredients.
Since 1957, most of the monosodium glutamate used in the United
States has been produced by bacterial fermentation, a process wherein
carefully selected genetically modified bacteria secrete glutamic acid
through their cell walls. *
The first published report of a reaction to monosodium glutamate in
the United States appeared in 1968 when Robert Ho Man Kwok, M.D.,
who had emigrated from China, reported that although he never had
the problem in China, about 20 minutes into a meal at certain Chinese
restaurants, he suffered numbness, tingling, and tightness of the chest that
lasted for approximately 2 hours.
The following year, John W. Olney, M.D. reported that laboratory
animals suffered brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders after
being exposed to monosodium glutamate. Scientists studying retinal
degeneration in mice treated with free glutamic acid had noted that these
mice became grotesquely obese. Olney, who speculated that the obesity
might be a sign of damage to the hypothalamus (the area of the brain
that regulates a number of endocrine functions, including weight control),
found that infant laboratory animals given free glutamic acid suffered brain
damage immediately, and assorted neuroendocrine disorders later in life.
Pharmaceutical grade L-glutamic acid was often used to produce these
disorders until neuroscientists observed that monosodium glutamate, an
inexpensive food additive, could be substituted for laboratory-grade free
glutamic acid in these studies and produce the same effects.
In the years that followed, neuroscientists replicated the work of Olney,
and Olney spoke out repeatedly about the toxic potential of monosodium
glutamate. In 1972, for example, Olney testified
before the Senate Select Committee on
Nutrition and Human Needs that ingestion of
MSG places humans at risk, with the greatest
risk being for the very young; and that a
National Academy of Science panel organized
earlier to determine whether MSG ought
to be banned from baby food had produced
an industry arranged whitewash by a group
of scientists with almost no experience in
In the early 1970s, manufacturers of baby
food voluntarily removed the monosodium
glutamate from their products, but replaced
the monosodium glutamate with MSGcontaining
ingredients such as autolyzed yeast
and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. In the late
1970s, manufacturers voluntarily removed
all obvious MSG-containing ingredients from
baby food, but not from infant formula.
The first published report of a reaction
to monosodium glutamate did not appear until monosodium glutamate
was being made by bacterial fermentation, and the use of monosodium
glutamate in the United States had begun to escalate.
To date, no MSG-containing product has been regulated by any agency
of the US government. The FDA has given lip service to reviewing the
safety of monosodium glutamate, always staffing the review panels with
industry representatives with conflicts of interests, or with persons with
little or no knowledge of neuroscience, amino acid toxicity, MSG, or adverse
reactions, all of whom were given industry friendly material to evaluate.
By and large, the requirement for "proof of a reasonable certainty that
no harm will result from the proposed use of an additive" is satisfied by a
statement from the manufacturer that the product is safe. In the case of
monosodium glutamate, if there is anything considered to be "proof" by
the FDA, "proof" consists of a variety of studies, each sponsored by the
glutamate industry and each with negative results so systematically flawed
that taken as a whole, one might consider that the intent of the body of
research has been to deceive the public.
With publication of Dr. George Schwartz' book, "In Bad Taste: The
MSG Syndrome," and growing awareness that MSG was causing adverse
reactions, industry developed a line of flavor enhancing products that
contained processed (manufactured) free glutamic acid (MSG) with flavor
enhancing capabilities, and names that gave no clue to the presence of
MSG. Indeed, as industry considered that consumers might be considering
the fact that monosodium glutamate might be potentially toxic, the
production of products with "clean labels" escalated. As defined by the
food industry in industry publications, "clean labels" would be those used
on MSG-containing products without giving consumers a clue to the fact
that the products contained MSG.
There are no comprehensive data on the number of such products
on the market, but information from the summer of 2010 salmonella
outbreak in the United States points to the extent to which MSG is hidden
in food, i.e., there were 177 products containing hydrolyzed vegetable
protein recalled from Basic Food Flavors, Inc., just one manufacturer.
Use of MSG in food has grown in the last 30 years and is still growing.
MSG is found in most soups, salad dressings, processed meats, frozen
entrees, ice cream and frozen yogurt, in some crackers, bread, canned
tuna, and very often in "low fat" and "no fat" foods to make up for flavor
lost when fat is reduced or eliminated. It can be found in cosmetics,
pharmaceuticals, and dietary supplements. It is found in enteral feeding
products and in infant formula. It is found in vaccines -- including vaccines
used on children. It is found in hospitals where it is hidden in the jello,
chicken soup, and some IV solutions given to very sick patients. Its use is
MSG used as a component of plant growth enhancers,
fertilizers, and fungicides applied to growing crops
On January 7, 1998, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
established exemptions for the requirement of a tolerance for residues of
the biochemicals "glutamic acid" and "gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA)"
in or on all food commodities when applied
as a plant growth and crop yield enhancer in
accordance with good agricultural practices.
On that date, or shortly thereafter, the EPA
granted the unconditional registration of
AuxiGro WP (EPA File Symbol 70810-R)
containing the two new active ingredients
"GABA" and "Glutamic Acid" (PC Codes
30802 and 374350, respectively) for use as a
growth enhancer for certain food crops and
ornamentals. The exemptions and registration
were granted to Auxein Corporation, Lansing,
By the year 2009, MSG could be found
in and/or on fresh fruits, nuts, grains, and
vegetables. There was no food crop that we
know of that had not been approved by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
for treatment with MSG.
In 2010, the EPA registration of AuxiGro and
glutamic acid were not renewed.
MSG used on crops grown in California
In May, 1999, spraying MSG on wine grapes (calling the spray a fertilizer)
was approved by the California Department of Food and Agriculture
(CDFA). Steven D. Wong, Branch Chief, Agricultural Commodities and
Regulatory Services told us that there was no demonstration that use
according to label directions would present a significant health hazard to
workers, consumers of products grown with the aid of the MSG-containing
product, or to the general public. To have a product approved for use
as a fertilizer in California, a company need do little more than make
In April, 2000, and again in July, 2001, spraying MSG on wine grapes
(calling it a fungicide) was approved by the California Department of
Pesticide Regulation (CDPR). Barry Cortez. Branch Chief, CDPR, first told
us that the CDPR would only turn down a product if it appeared to be
ineffective, and AuxiGro didn't appear to be ineffective.
By 2009, unrestricted use of monosodium glutamate (called Lglutamate)
and AuxiGro had been approved for use on all agricultural
In 2009, California registration of AuxiGro lapsed. In 2010, the CDPR
registration of AuxiGro and glutamic acid were not renewed.
Adrienne Samuels, Ph.D. and Jack Samuels, Directors of Truth in Labeling Campaign, WWW.truthinlabeling.org
7. Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, (1983.) s.v. "Flavor enhancers and potentiators." pp 1211-1212.
8. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, 3rd Edition, Volume 2. New York: Wiley, 1978. pp 410-421.
9. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology Fourth Edition (Wiley, 1992) pp 571-579.
10. U.S. Patent #5,573,945. Mutant and method for producing L-glutamic acid by fermentation. Ajinomoto Co., Inc. (Tokyo, JP). November 12, 1996.
11. Leung, A. and Foster, S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York: Wiley, 1996. pp 373-375.
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