Farmers Using MSG As Pesticides
by Alishya Gunawardene
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) or Ajinomoto is the sodium salt of glutamic amino acid, which is a non-essential amino acid. However, farmers in Sri Lanka now mix MSG into their chemical solutions as it increases the strength and effect of the pesticides.
MSG is used in food as a flavour enhancing agent, and is highly addictive. It balances, blends, rounds and refines the perception of other tastes, and is popular in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine. It is also used in canned vegetables, soups, crackers, meats, salad dressings, frozen dinners, processed meats and, amazingly, even in baby food and infant formula. MSG was initially composed by a Japanese biochemist in his attempts to isolate and replicate the savoury taste of ‘Kombu’, which is edible seaweed that is utilised as a base for many Japanese soups. Following this, the biochemist and his partner were able to form a man-made food additive MSG, based on this invention, and proceeded to form a company, Ajinomoto, which is currently the largest producer and supplier of MSG.
Interestingly enough, Ajinomoto is also a drug manufacturer. The reason this is interesting is the fact that Ajinomoto/MSG is so addictive.
However, MSG did not become popular until after World War II, when the U.S. military realised Japanese rations were much tastier than the U.S. rations owing to the use of MSG. In reality, MSG has no taste, but it tricks the tongue using a fifth basic taste: ‘umam.i’ Umami is the taste of glutamate, which is a savoury flavour such as the one found in bacon, and it gives the illusion of food tasting heartier and better than food that does not contain MSG. Studies show that MSG is a possible trigger for learning disabilities such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Huntington’s Chorea, etc. if not the trigger, MSG may very well be a factor that worsens the aforementioned diseases. Other side effects of MSG include obesity, eye damage, headaches, fatigue and disorientation, depression, numbness, burning sensation, tingling, facial pressure or facial tightness, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, nausea, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness and weakness.
Glutamic acid is reputedly toxic to the nervous system. Children are most at risk from the effects of MSG. Infant animals that were fed glutamic acid developed neuroendocrine problems like obesity, stunted growth, reproductive disorders and learning disabilities. The solution used to be to avoid food containing MSG – an easy feat, as the Food and Drug Association (FDA) in the United States declared it necessary for it to be listed on the label, if and when MSG is used in any food item, as the use of MSG in food is highly controversial – and buy only organic produce.
However, avoiding MSG is not such a simple task anymore, as it has now come to a point where farmers are mixing MSG into their pesticide solutions and using it on crops. Elavalu and Palathuru Kadés and the fresh produce freezer display at the supermarket virtually scream healthy to anyone who should pass them. The array of vibrant colours and plump, shiny mounds of different shapes and sizes are pleasing to the eye. Buy a few veggies and fruits, you feel good about yourself – yes, you are on the right path to achieving a perfectly balanced, healthy lifestyle, like those yoga gurus you see on TV and in magazines, and envy. Eat a few salads and exercise a little, and you feel like you’re living healthy, maintaining that waistline and extending your life-span by a good few years. However, some years down the line, you find your body slowly shutting down, buckling under the weight of some sort of health complication. Reflecting on your lifestyle, you wonder why this has happened to you. You have eaten healthy and exercised, so what is the reason for the health issues? One simple answer: Monosodium Glutamate. This is not to say that MSG is the blanket cause for any and every sickness or ailment that challenges you down the road. However, it can safely be said that it is a big contributing factor. The farmers mix MSG into their chemical solutions as it increases the strength and effect of the pesticides. Consumers believe that “fresh produce” purchased from stores are void of chemicals as they look so fresh.
However, this cannot be further from the truth. Organic produce barely even exists anymore, as fruits and vegetables are grown by spraying pesticides, herbicides and agrochemicals mixed with MSG as a growth enhancer for crops and to prevent the destruction of the crops. People are so concerned over the use of growth hormones to enhance meat and milk, and now vegetables can easily be added to that list, as they are sprayed with drugs that stimulate your pituitary to make their own growth hormone. Senior Lecturer in medicine at the Rajarata University, Dr. Channa Jayasumana told The Sunday Leader that there is actually no scientific evidence to support that MSG possesses weedicide properties. However, practically, farmers claim that MSG does indeed have a weedicidal effect, as it slows down weedicidal activities and even kills weed. “Ajinomoto is Monosodium Glutamate. It is a taste enhancer and a synthetic compound. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter to the human brain. Some animal studies show that MSG can cause damage to the central nervous system. It is, furthermore, diabetagenic,” he said.
Dr. Jayasumana further stated that nobody knows the exact effect or consequences that occur when MSG is added to ground water or water sources. “When the farmers use an excess amount of MSG, there is a possibility of it getting accumulated in the water sources. We have yet to discover what the health risks of these actions are. Ajinomoto or MSG is not accepted as a weedicide. There is evidence to support that this chemical compound is causing certain damages to the mammalian, though it is not yet proven on humans. Scientists are still researching on that possibility,” he asserted, “my personal opinion is to abstain from using MSG as a weedicide. Instead, we should promote the use of non-hybrid, naturally grown seed varieties that are not dependent on agro chemicals.”
He proceeded to tell The Sunday Leader that they are planning to do research on the long term effects of Monosodium Glutamate on human beings. Although the long term effects of spraying MSG onto crops is still not yet known, the risk of it accumulating in the water sources, as Dr. Jayasumana stated, has already occurred, and it has resulted in kidney disease bringing about misery to our little island. If the use of MSG as a growth enhancing agent on commercial crops is curbed, the financial strain that the country bears to treat kidney patients can be reduced significantly. It is safe to say that Monosodium Glutamate is a cornerstone ingredient in our diets.
Currently, worldwide, there are little to no commercial crops that are not sprayed with MSG to assist the growth process. It is used so widely because it is a dirt cheap method of enhancing flavour in food and growth in crops. Using organic fertilisers may require a little more effort, but it is effort worth expending, as it will safeguard the future generations of the health hazards that come hand in glove with Monosodium Glutamate. Once the health risks and issues are eliminated, the government can focus on developing the nation.