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Ingredients > Food safety and labeling

Glutamate Association joins ‘Soup Wars’

By Gavin Kermack , 22-Oct-2008
Last updated on 22-Oct-2008 at 18:06 GMT2008-10-22T18:06:07Z

Competing claims by food companies over the removal of MSG from their products are a marketing gimmick which will simply confuse customers and make them think that a perfectly safe product poses a health risk, according to the USA’s Glutamate Association (GA).

The association was apparently referring to moves by rival firms Progresso and Campbell to make all their soups free of monosodium glutamate (MSG).

It claims that with each company making the absence of MSG in their products a point of promotion, consumers will assume that there is some reason for them to avoid it in their diet. There is no substance to this belief, says the GA, as MSG has been proven a safe food additive.

Moreover, Campbell recently ran an advertising campaign in which, according to Progresso, it made “unflattering comparisons” to those Progresso products which still contained MSG.

Progresso was in the process of reformulating all its soups as MSG-free but announced the move ahead of time as a direct response to Campbell’s campaign.

The GA, an industry body of manufacturers and marketers which endorses the use of MSG, said that such actions “miss the point”.

“It is a disservice to consumers to imply that the inclusion of MSG in canned soup is a detriment, when in fact, the use of MSG in canned soups has long been recognized as a safe, effective way to provide consumers with exactly what they want – a soup that tastes good,” said Brendan Naulty, president of the GA.

Taste and cost

The GA points out that MSG, an additive most frequently used as a flavor enhancer in savory foods such as soups, ready meals, fish and meat, has been a popular ingredient for 100 years because of the richer flavor it can provide to dishes. It says that “research conducted over the past decade has only reinforced the role of monosodium glutamate as a safe and useful ingredient in the diet… time and again consumer research has shown that American shoppers’ top food product concerns are taste and cost”.

A separate 2002 study at the University of Otago in New Zealand suggested that while consumers’ perception of MSG was generally negative, taste was the main factor to be taken into consideration when choosing products.

Health concerns

There have been some concerns, though, regarding the health risks from MSG. In 1992, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assigned the independent Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to examine the available data on glutamate safety. FASEB reported back that consumption of MSG at usual levels did not pose a health risk.

However, it did identify symptoms which occurred amongst some people after consuming MSG-treated food, such as chest pain, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat and drowsiness, but noted that these tended to be suffered after consuming (abnormally) large quantities of MSG.

MSG has been classified as ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) by the FDA since 1959, although the FDA does require it to be acknowledged in the ingredients listing of foods in which it is present.

This classification has since been backed up by various bodies including the World Health Organization and the European Scientific Committee for Foods.

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