Having finally talked with Oklahoma State Sen. Ralph Shortey, we can tell you this: He did not expect the little ban on fetuses in food he's proposed to get the kind of attention it's gotten. He also thinks we all misunderstood his bill. We didn't. Shortey said all these headlines (and there are a lot) that say he wants to outlaw food containing fetuses got him wrong. He said he doesn't think there actually are fetus parts in food, but he wants to make it illegal all the same, so as to make a statement against stem cell research. But if that's what he meant to say, he could've been a lot clearer.
"The unfortunate thing is, this has been framed as 'this guy doesn't like fetuses in food,' " Shortey said via telephone on Thursday. "I'm under no delusion. I don't think that's actually happening. The headlines are phrased as 'this guy thinks there's chopped up fetuses in your food.'"
That might have to do with the wording of the bill, which doesn't mention stem cell research at all, but does devote one seventh of its 42 words to "aborted human fetuses." Here it is once more, in full:
No person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.
So yeah, is it any surprise that most media outlet that picked it up put the word "fetus" in their headline? "Which Companies Are Using Aborted Human Fetuses in Their Food?" asked Gawker. "OK Lawmaker Asks for Fetus Food Ban," declared Cheat Sheet. "Bill Would Ban Aborted Fetuses in Food," explained ABC. "Fun-Hating Legislator Proposes Ban on Eating Aborted human Fetuses," Jezebel snarked. Only The Oklahoman, as far as we can tell, forewent the irresistible "fetus food" headline in order to give Shortey the benefit of the doubt: "Oklahoma bill would outlaw using embryonic stem cells in food testing." (Snore.) Even we went for it. How could we not?
Shortey admitted that the bill's going to need some revising before it goes to committee. "The one thing that is unfortunate about the wording of the bill is the lack of detail," Shortey said. "I write a lot of bills every year bearing different ideas. When we introduce a bill, that is rarely, if ever, the version that passes."
What he actually wants to do, he said, is "start the discussion" on whether it should be legal for companies such as Senomyx, a research firm that works with PepsiCo, to use processes like the one that it patented to serve as a sort of artificial taste-tester. That patent, on which Shortey said he based his bill, mentions HEK 293, or Human Embryonic Kidney 293, which NPR described as "a widely available cell line that was originally cultured in the early 1970s from a human embryo in the Netherlands." That sounds a lot more complicated than "human fetuses," but by using the latter, Shortey sure managed to get himself some press.