A tiny bit of legislation from the state capitol in Oklahoma is making the rounds among grossed-out news readers, as NPR reports on a bill that would outlaw the use of fetuses in food. Ew, right? The whole thing is complete baloney (which doesn't contain fetuses!), and seems to be little more than a PR grab from a state senator who wants to get in good with the pro-life lobby. The bill, introduced by Sen. Ralph Shortey, is pretty limited. Outside the legalese pertaining to the bill's statute number, it contains 42 words:
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.
We reached out to the senator to ask if this is an ongoing problem in Oklahoma, and haven't heard back from his office yet. But he did explain a bit to Tulsa's KRMG News Talk Radio: "I don’t know if it is happening in Oklahoma, it may be, it may not be. What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here." But it's not really happening.
What is happening is that Senomyx, a company that's been working with PepsiCo on flavor development since 2010, patented a technology for which it did some stem cell research, and that has some pro-lifers campaigning for a boycott of PepsiCo.
Senomyx patented a process "for what is essentially an automated taste test," NPR reports. That patent "mentions HEK 293, or Human Embryonic Kidney 293, a widely available cell line that was originally cultured in the early 1970s from a human embryo in the Netherlands."
Back in October, the pro-life site LifeNews.com reported that PepsiCo shareholders had filed a resolution with the SEC calling for the company to stop contracting with Senomyx. Mentions of Pepsi's relationship with Senomyx, and pro-lifers disgust at it, have been popping up in the pro-life community for a lot of 2011, in fact. As the Miami New Times reported back in March, it all started with a group called Children of God for Life, which styles itself as a watchdog for companies using products that may have been developed using stem cell research. Children of God for Life has been pushing for an "official" boycott of PepsiCo, but in December it put out a list of companies it thought also worked with Senomyx, including items from Nestle and Kraft / Cadbury. Children of God for Life argues that any food made with technology that has anything to do with stem cell research equals dead fetuses. Senomyx hasn't actually done anything illegal, nor has Pepsi. All either has done is use technology based on a research technique that some people don't like. You can read Senomyx's patent if you want. Do you really think it would still be in business if it contained fetuses?
In April, PepsiCo sent an email to Children of God for Life, denying it used any kind of fetuses in its food. "These claims are meant to suggest that human fetal tissue is somehow used in our research," the company wrote. "That is both inaccurate and something we would never do or even consider ... That’s dangerous, unethical and against the law."
Clearly, the Senomyx campaign is the work of a fringe group that wants to make its point by comparing any usage of stem cells with consuming actual fetuses. But the Oklahoma bill has a real consequence: If it passes as written, it would outlaw sale and manufacturer of foods developed using stem cells, which right now means Pepsi products. Aside from Pepsi's own facilities in Oklahoma, that means stores and restaurants selling Pepsi would have to stop, and distributors would lose contracts. But if you're that grossed out by the notion of stem cell research being used to make diet soda, perhaps it's worth it.