Ajinomoto 'disappointed' with EFSA glutamate opinion as EU says it will consider maximum levels

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Umami seasoning supplier Ajinomoto is "disappointed" Europe's food safety authority has called for regulations capping MSG and glutamate additives in food, as the Commission confirms it will consider setting maximum levels.

Yesterday (12 July) Europe’s Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a scientific opinion setting a group acceptable daily intake (ADI) level of 30 milligrams (mg) per kilo body weight (bw) per day for six glutamic acid food additives.

It also called on the European Commission to set maximum levels because population dietary intake exceeded this safe amount.

A spokesperson for the Commission said: “The Commission plans to follow up on the EFSA's recommendation to consider revising the maximum permitted levels, in particular, in food categories contributing the most to the overall exposure to glutamic acid and its salt.”

Member states and all relevant stakeholders would be consulted, with the opinion scheduled to be presented to member states at a meeting of the governmental experts on food additives working party in autumn this year, she added.

Ajinomoto – one of the most high profile consumer-facing and B2B suppliers of savoury umami sauces – ­said it was "disappointed" the panel recommended upper levels for glutamate.

It is a fact that we consume glutamates in our diet from a very wide range of sources, primarily animal and vegetable proteins which have glutamate as a natural component – amino acid,” said Kaori Ono, director for quality assurance and regulatory science at Ajinomoto Europe.

“Our bodies treat glutamate in exactly the same way no matter what the source; indeed most of the glutamate we consume is used by the cells of our digestive system for energy and so doesn't enter the blood stream.”

Salt reduction efforts undermined?

Setting a maximum level would be likely to lead to confusion both in food manufacturing and in terms evidence-based advice on a healthy diet, Ono added.

“As the glutamate from seasoning cannot be distinguished from the glutamate from tomatoes (in soup for example) in analyses, it is unclear how this recommendation, which relates only to glutamate as seasoning and not to all of the other sources of glutamate, can be enforced or monitored. 

“At a time when there is a need for clear evidence-based advice to the public, concerning their diet and its relation to their health, it is unfortunate that the benefits of using glutamate based seasoning, for salt (sodium) reduction for example, and to enhance umami taste may be undermined,” said Ono.

Israeli supplier Salt of the Earth, which sells reduced-salt ingredient Mediterranean Umami, said it should not be affected by the scientific opinion.

Business unit director David Hart said: "The umami taste of these extracts is due to many factors, among them is the naturally occurring unique amino acid profile, including free glutamic acid. We do not add any of synthetic glutamates mentioned in the EFSA document to Mediterranean Umami [and] find that at the usual dosage-rates of Mediterranean Umami in foods, these are still far below these EFSA limits."

"This regulatory initiative highlights the need for food manufacturers to find a natural and clean-label replacement for MSG--which Mediterranean Umami definitely is," Hart added.

A spokesperson for Nestle, the manufacturer of Maggi stock which contains sodium glutamate as well as soups and sauces, said it welcomed the EFSA study.

“We will look into the recommendations to assess what potential impact they may have on our products. The safety and quality of our products is our number one priority. As such, we only use additives that are approved and thus safe to use.”

The spokesperson added that Nestle’s ‘Kitchen Cupboard’ initiative has seen it simplify ingredient lists, removing artificial additives, flavours and colours; increasing the vegetable and whole grain content and reducing the salt and sugar. 

European industry lobby FoodDrinkEurope said it had “taken note” of the opinion and would be monitoring the reaction of risk managers following the recommendation.

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EFSA sets safe intake level for MSG and glutamate additives, urging new maximum levels

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