New legislation expects too much from FDA

When the House of Representatives passed the Cheeseburger Bill in March 2004, they took away the public’s right to sue restaurants for consumers’ weight gain or obesity-related health problems. But what the House didn’t take into account and the Senate should as the bill awaits its approval is that in order to hold the public accountable for its actions, the food industry must also be held to a standard.

The Federal Drug Administration requires clear food labeling listing, among other facts, “claims about the relationship between a nutrient or food and a disease or health-related condition, such as calcium and osteoporosis, and fat and cancer. These are helpful for people who are concerned about eating foods that may help keep them healthier longer.”

What the FDA does not consider a threat is flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (other chemicals commonly filed under the MSG tab are glutamic acid, L-glutamic acid and glutamate). The chemical, originally found in seaweed and used in Asian cuisine as a flavor enhancer, occurs naturally in foods such as cheese, tomatoes and peas. MSG does not add flavor to the food; rather, it excites the taste buds to enhance the flavor of primary ingredients.

According to a Sept. 25 editorial in the St. Petersburg Times, genetically modified bacteria produce the majority of MSG used today. The problem with MSG is that it’s a neurotransmitter: Receptors in the brain are tricked to think that lower quality food tastes better, thus allowing producers to substitute quality with quantity by increasing the amount of MSG used.

MSG has also been known to produce side effects such as chronic fatigue, numbness and rapid heartbeat, all symptoms that the FDA accepts as health concerns, but only in passing.

While MSG must be reported on the food label (only the basic monosodium glutamate and none of the other flavor enhancers), its doses do not, and the FDA bases its claim on the harmlessness of MSG based on dosage. According to the FDA website, “a large dose would be three grams or more per meal. A typical serving of glutamate-treated food contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG.”

Some studies claim that MSG can even lead to such long-term diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but the FDA has refuted these claims. Based on reports from the International Glutamate Technical Committee and the Glutamate Association, which disproved independent reports, the FDA hailed MSG a safe additive. But both associations were founded and are led by food manufacturers: “Among the Association’s international members are many of the world’s largest food companies involved in such diverse areas as the manufacturing and marketing of food ingredients, spice and flavor blends and canned, frozen and other packaged prepared food,” states, the Glutamate Association’s home page. The IGTC was designed and funded by Ajinomoto, one of the world’s largest producers of MSG.

The FDA, a government organization meant to watch out for consumer needs, is accepting obviously biased reports from an “association of manufacturers, national marketers, and processed food users of glutamic acid and its salts” (

By passing the Cheeseburger Bill, legislators are taking away the public’s last chance at holding food manufacturers accountable for the additives they put in their food. To leave the responsibility to the public means that the public should be aware of what it is ingesting, information that, right now, is deliberately being withheld for the sake of profit.