Placeholder Banner

What Is It with Food Acronyms?

April 5, 2018
I think it’s fair to say, that some, if not most, opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are aware of the science illustrating the safety behind the technology. Still, non-GMO activists are relentless in linking GMOs to negative health effects.

However, as Morgan Manghera writes for Food Insight, the official blog for the International Food Information Council Foundation, GMOs aren’t the only food acronyms receiving unfounded criticism. Since the 1960s, MSG (monosodium glutamate) has been facing a similar battle with negative public perceptions:
The MSG frenzy began in 1968 when biomedical researcher Robert Ho Man Kwok penned a letter saying he came down with an illness from Chinese restaurants — specifically restaurants that use MSG in their food preparation. At the time, MSG was popular, but Kwok’s letter turned the tables. MSG became the enemy substance: Consumers rebuffed it, and scientists began studying it with a more critical eye.

Despite numerous repeated studies which found that MSG does not cause numbness, weakness and heart palpitations — conditions reported by Dr. Kwok in 1968 — many Americans still say they avoid MSG some 50 years after the Kwok experience.  But why?  Why do consumers continue to avoid this ingredient that is approved as safe?

In trying to answer the why, Manghera spoke with Megan Meyer, PhD, Director of Science Communications at IFIC, and unsurprisingly, her explanations as to why consumers refuse to accept the science around MSG are all too familiar for those working to promote the safety of GMOs:
Consumers trust friends, family and health-centered blogs and websites as their primary influencers. This practice demonstrates a clear lack of trust in science and institutions.

Trusting friends and family is understandable. However, issues arise when friends and family members are influenced by false information provided by “health-centered blogs,” and other unscientific outlets, that only look to perpetuate fear. And frankly, fear works.

It’s one of the reasons that even through there has been no peer-reviewed scientific study connecting GMO consumption with negative health effects, the technology is still not widely accepted.

It’s easy for amateur health bloggers to write 600 words on why they think GMOs are bad. It takes a lot more time and scrutiny for scientists to rigorously study the technology and determine their conclusion.

So, why do many insist on trusting bloggers over scientists? Maybe it’s because the science isn’t as scary as you think. Plus, fear sells.