Labelled only as "amino acid and others"
On September 14, 2009, two new food additives from Ajinomoto were judged to be "safe" by the Expert Committee for Genetically Modified Food and Others at the Food Safety Commission (FSC). The appraisal was open for public comments and it seems likely that the two novel amino acids will be approved by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour by the end of November.
So far, several GMO food additives have been approved, but they were basically used for food processing, as in the case of enzymes like alpha amylase for improved productivity. There have been no cases of GMO food additives that are used directly as seasoning as is the case of amino acids. Thus, when Ajinomoto first submitted these GMO products, there were no established method for safety appraisal.
That was why the Food Safety Commission has published a "Directive for safety assessment of food additives which are produced using genetically modified micro-organisms and which are highly refined and have non-protein characteristics, including amino acids." (Many studies have verified that the process of genetic engineering can produce unpredicted toxins or allergens.)
The two GMO food additives FSC Expert Committee judged as safe are L-Glutamic Acid Sodium (GLU-No. 2 strain) and Aspartame-L-Fenylalanin (PHA-No. 2 strain). In the current food-labelling legislation, the former would be labelled only as "amino acid, and others" and would be used as a food additive in many foods.
The latter would be labelled only as Aspartame which is classified as an artificial sweetener. None of these will need to be labelled as GMO or otherwise identified as genetically modified under the current rules.
For what purpose is genetic engineering used in the production of these chemicals?
In the human gut, there are a number of different bacteria, including E Coli. These help to digest the protein we eat, be it fish or meat or other sources, by breaking them down to amino acids, making it possible for the body to absorb them from the intestine. At Ajinomoto Co., Inc. they figured out how to make use of this mechanism, using artificially cultured bacteria in large tanks. Presumably, by using GMO bacteria, they claim they can increase the productivity of the bacteria.