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Taste testing is as simple as stimulus and response. We eat/drink something new, and our taste buds either love us, or hate us for the experience. If we zoom in closer on the taste buds of the tongue, we would see that they are made up of many cells. If we zoom in even further on the cells, we come to the apparatus at the surface of the cell responsible for interacting with molecules in food, and creating a response within the cell that will be transmitted to the brain.

Pepsi Getting Heat for Use of Aborted Fetal Cells in Flavor Research

Shareholders of Pepsi Co have filed a resolution with the Securities and Exchange Commission in an effort to force the company to stop contracting with a research firm that uses cells from aborted babies in its process of producing artificial flavor enhancers. According to LifeNews.com, Pepsi has “ignored concerns and criticism from dozens of pro-life groups and tens of thousands of pro-life people who voiced their opposition to PepsiCo contracting with biotech company Senomyx even after it was found to be testing their food additives using fetal cells from abortions.” On its website Senomyx explains that its flavor research programs “focus on the discovery and development of savory, sweet and salt flavor ingredients that are intended to allow for the reduction of MSG, sugar and salt in food and beverage products. Using isolated human taste receptors, we created proprietary taste receptor-based assay systems that provide a biochemical or electronic readout when a flavor ingredient interacts with the receptor.”

But Debi Vinnedge of Children of God for Life, a pro-life group that has focused its attention on Pepsi’s relationship with Senomyx, pointed out that what the company does not reveal is that it is “using HEK293 — human embryonic kidney cells taken from an electively aborted baby to produce those receptors. They could have easily chosen animal, insect, or other morally obtained human cells expressing the G protein for taste receptors.”

When asked about her company’s use of HEK293, Senomyx vice president Gwen Rosenberg assured a reporter for the Miami New Times that “you won’t find anything on our website about HEK293.” Queried about the company’s position on stem-cell research, Rosenberg boasted, “We don’t have a position on anything. We’re dedicated to finding new flavors to reduce sugars and reduce salt. Our focus is to help consumers with diabetes or high blood pressure have a better quality of life.”

Vinnedge recalled that in August Pepsi inked a four-year, $30-million deal with Senomyx for the flavor company to develop artificial high-potency sweeteners for the beverage maker. The pro-life group contacted both companies, requesting them not to use fetal cells in the program, reminding them that there were other, non-objectionable, and fully viable alternatives. Senomyx ignored the letter altogether, while Pepsi officials replied with a blanket e-mail from “Pepsi Consumer Relations,” assuring those who contacted them with concerns that the company was “committed to using only the highest ethical methods in all aspects of our research. This is something we take very seriously, and we hold ourselves and all of our research partners to the same high standards as the world’s leading research centers.”

Regarding its relationship with Senomyx, PepsiCo explained that “we utilize techniques that have been the gold standard for several decades by top universities, hospitals, U.S. government agencies, food and beverage companies, and essentially every pharmaceutical and biotech company in the world.”

The e-mail also complained that there was “misinformation being circulated meant to distort what we’re doing and question our motives and those of other companies.” Bradley Mattes, executive director of Life Issues Institute, one of the pro-life groups involved in the campaign, clarified: “While aborted fetal cells aren’t actually in the product itself, the close relationship is enough to repulse most consumers. To our knowledge, this is the first time a food product has been publicly associated with abortion.”

Brushing aside concerns that aborted babies were being used to help enhance their products, Pepsi pointed instead to the tradeoff, noting that the research would help the company create “lower-calorie, great-tasting beverages for consumers,” as well as “help us achieve our commitment to reduce added sugar per serving by 25% in key brands in key markets over the next decade and ultimately help people live healthier lives.”

In their resolution, the PepsiCo shareholders asked the company’s board of directors to adopt “a corporate policy that recognizes human rights and employs ethical standards which do not involve using the remains of aborted human beings in both private and collaborative research and development agreements.”

Said Vinnedge: “Shareholders have a right to know the truth about what PepsiCo is doing with their hard-earned savings. PepsiCo’s lack of consideration to the public’s moral sensibilities has only served to fuel the fire and threaten stock values, retirement pensions and investments.”

Ironically, PepsiCo’s own Code of Conduct includes the boast that they “deal with customers, suppliers, the public and our competitors in an ethical and appropriate manner.” Noted Vinnedge: “There is nothing ethical or appropriate in the way they are exploiting the remains of an innocent aborted child.”

In addition to sending letters to PepsiCo’s board of directors, Children of God for Life launched a Pepsi boycott that has been joined by other pro-life groups, including the American Life League, Colorado Right to Life, American Right to Life, and Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute. Bradley Mattes of Life Issues Institute, another of the groups participating in the boycott, told the Christian Post that “Pepsi has decided to dig in their heels and move forward, so I think the consumer concerned about the sanctity of human life should boycott.”

Vinnedge related the story of one 12-year-old Florida boy named Gene, who learned of PepsiCo’s connection to the use of the cells of aborted babies, and decided to join the Pepsi boycott in a big way. Gene explained his motivation to a pro-life audience: “When I found out about this, I was sick to my stomach. I decided I wouldn’t let this happen, so I came up with a way to boycott Pepsi products called United Schools for Life. This program will attempt to remove all Pepsi products from the schools in our diocese.”

Vinnedge said she was deeply moved by the youngster’s initiative and courage. “We hope that PepsiCo senior management gives serious consideration to what this boy has done,” she said. “Even a child knows this is wrong. God bless him for standing up for the unborn who have no voice of their own.”

There is a growing chorus from within the pro-life movement against PepsiCo for their use of a cell line (derived from a baby aborted in the 1970′s) for testing response to new flavors in the lab. This is biologically straightforward, and ethically problematic. From a consumerist and moral perspective, it’s even murkier. Pepsi is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s build the argument from the biological level, upward.


Taste testing is as simple as stimulus and response. We eat/drink something new, and our taste buds either love us, or hate us for the experience. If we zoom in closer on the taste buds of the tongue, we would see that they are made up of many cells. If we zoom in even further on the cells, we come to the apparatus at the surface of the cell responsible for interacting with molecules in food, and creating a response within the cell that will be transmitted to the brain.

This apparatus is pictured above, and is at the core of the ethical debate. The two solid green, parallel lines represent the membrane of the cell. The purple ‘signaling agonist’ at top left is our food molecule. It binds to a receptor molecule that only binds molecules of a very specific shape and size. That receptor then slides to the right and interacts with G-Proteins, which activate other molecules such as Inositol Triphosphate, which in turn triggers what amounts to the old “Mousetrap” game–a cascade of responses within the cell.

It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the fundamental mechanism in question here.

HEK 293 Cells

PepsiCo employs the biotech company, Senomyx, to do their taste testing. Senomyx uses a line of cells that are derived from the kidney of an aborted baby in the 1970′s. The cell line is designated HEK (Human Embryonic Kidney) 293 (isolated and cultured successfully in the researcher’s 293rd experiment. These cells were isolated from the aborted baby’s kidneys and then grown and replicated in the laboratory in a liquid nutrient broth called cell culture medium. As long as one changes the broth periodically, the cells will continue to grow and divide.

In research, certain cell lines become the standard for use in a given field. Typically, the cells that become the standard, such as HEK 293 are remarkably stable, easy to work with, and provide reliable and repeatable results. These characteristics enable researchers to pursue tangential and parallel lines of research with great confidence in the relatedness of different labs’ results when the same cell line is employed. It assures us that we are all speaking the same cellular language, and not different dialects.

Hence the very thing that is a strength can also be a liability if cell lines have base and illegitimate origins. HEK cells are the standard in many fields of research. They are especially good at being used as “living test tubes” for creating proteins, such as the G Protein used in taste sensation.

Senomyx has been able to produce the G proteins within these cells and then isolate these proteins. They have then used these proteins in a proprietary construct to get a test tube response system to different molecules used in flavoring. Therein lies the tastelessness of the research method. The question is whether or not other cell lines exist, from which the same results may be gleaned, and how reliable these alternatives may be.


Let’s look for a moment at the problem of vaccines manufactured in aborted fetal cell lines. It has been suggested in some Catholic circles that the distance between today and the abortion from decades ago that established the cell line, and the proportional good to be gained and evil to be averted through use of the cell line vaccines can be sufficient to merit the use of the vaccines and attenuate complicity and culpability in the abortion. Some might agree, and some might disagree. I’ve heard Catholic bioethicists and clergy on both sides of this issue. But the issue begs a deeper question.

The more that HEK 293 is used (and it is used rather ubiquitously now), how many products are we morally obliged to refrain from using? How many medical treatments, with no ethically sound alternative, must we forgo? HEK 293 is used to manufacture proteins in thousands of labs, and is omnipresent. What do we do with a field already saturated by the use of aborted cell lines?

Obviously, we need ethically sound alternatives that produce the same quality output as the aborted cell lines, so that we may have the scientific basis for a smooth and orderly transfer. Then we need to change the culture of science, which will be no easy feat.

The next issue is what to do about all of the food products that have already been developed using these questionable methods. Even if Pepsi breaks ties with Senomyx, and cleans up their act, do we boycott all foods developed before the conversion?

For now the issue is pretty simple. Pepsi is committed to Senomyx, and I’m more than a few pounds overweight and just starting to shed those pounds. I won’t be purchasing PepsiCo products in the near future, or even the distant future, and even though this research leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the core question remains:

As these cell lines grow in use, where do we draw the line?

Pink slime's  Beef Products Inc.: Hard knock for a good company? + News 2011

A hamburger made from ground beef containing what is derisively referred to as "pink slime," or what the meat industry calls "lean, finely textured beef," right, and one made from pure 85% lean ground beef are displayed. Beef Products Inc. says it will suspend production of the product at three of its four plants.

Beef Products Inc. told the Associated Press on Monday that it’ll shut down operations at three of the four plants where it makes the meat product that critics have nastily taken to calling “pink slime.” But some food industry experts say that the company’s trip through the grinder is unfair. BPI could have done more to inform consumers of the process it used to make what’s known as “lean, finely textured beef,” said Seattle food safety lawyer Bill Marler. The company takes fatty meat trimmings, heats them and runs them through a centrifuge to take off the fat and then treats the remaining lean beef with ammonium hydroxide gas to eliminate bacteria such asE. coli.

“BPI had a disclosure problem,” Marler said. “From a public relations standpoint, they handled it incorrectly. Ultimately, when you’re selling people food, you ought to be transparent about what you’re selling them.”As a result of the recent outcry over pink slime, only the company’s facility at its Dakota Dunes, S.D., headquarters will remain operational, according to the AP report. Factories in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kan.; and Waterloo, Iowa will be suspended.

But the company, Marler said, also has a strong track record of fighting for food safety.

“They’ve been unfairly treated in that regard,” he said. Other observers, such as food safety attorney Sarah Klein, have referred to the pink-slime commotion as “a tempest in a teapot.”

In late 2009, Marler said he visited the BPI factory in South Dakota, which he called “an amazing facility.”

“I’ve been in a lot of food-processing facilities – the scale of this one and the amount of stainless steel and cleanliness that I saw was pretty staggering,” he said.

The factory, he said, shares a wall with one of Tyson Food’s largest slaughter factories, which brings in meat trim via a conveyor belt. Hundreds of employees in hard hats, hair nets and white coats bustled around the odorless space, where Marler said he would see 60-pound boxes of lean meat that “looked a lot like hamburger – not the slimy stuff that looks like toothpaste.”

Still, he refers to the cheap meat product as “gross stuff.” It's also been referred to as “Soylent Pink” in a nod to the classic science fiction film “Soylent Green.”

Though it’s been in rotation for years and has been approved as safe by federal food regulators, pink slime suddenly attracted a resurgence in interest this month via social media and online petitions.

Supermarkets such as Ralph’s owner Kroger Co., Safeway, Supervalu and more have dominoed over one another to announce their abandonment of the product. Several school districts have banned it from their cafeterias.

BPI’s hard-learned lesson, according to Marler: Being upfront about business practices, no matter how unsavory.

“Companies need to trust the American public more to parse though what’s real and what’s not,” he said.

As the episode opens, Michael Chambers is seen lying uncomfortably on a cot in a spartan interior. A voice implores him to eat. He refuses. He asks what time it is on Earth, and begins to tell the story of how he came to be here (aboard a spaceship) in flashback.

The Kanamits, a race of nine-foot-tall aliens, land on Earth. One of them addresses the United Nations, vowing that his race's motive in coming to Earth is solely to be helpful to humanity. Initially wary of the intentions of an alien race who came "quite uninvited," even skeptical international leaders begin to be persuaded of the aliens' benevolence when the Kanamits share their advanced technology, quickly putting an end to many of Earth's greatest woes, including hunger; energy becomes very cheap; nuclear weapons are rendered harmless. The aliens even morph deserts into big, blooming fields. Trust in the Kanamits seems to be justified when Patty, one of a staff of US government cryptographers led by Mr. Chambers, cracks the title of a Kanamit book the spokesman left behind at the UN. Its title, she reveals, is To Serve Man.

Soon, humans are volunteering for trips to the Kanamits' home planet, which is portrayed as a paradise. With the Cold War ended, the code-breaking staff has no real work to do, but Patty is still trying to work out the meaning of the text of To Serve Man.

The day arrives for Mr. Chambers's excursion to the Kanamits' planet. Just as he mounts the spaceship's boarding stairs, his staffer Patty appears. He waves, smiling, but she runs toward him in great agitation—and is held back by a Kanamit guard. "Mr. Chambers," Patty cries, "don't get on that ship! The rest of the book To Serve Man, it's... it's a cookbook!" Chambers tries to run back down the spaceship's stairs, but a Kanamit wrestles him into the ship, and it immediately takes off for the aliens' home planet.

Mr. Chambers is once again seen aboard the Kanamit spaceship, now saying to the audience, "How about you? You still on Earth, or on the ship with me? Really doesn't make very much difference, because sooner or later, we'll all be on the menu...all of us." The episode closes as he gives in and breaks his hunger strike; as Chambers tears at his food, Rod Serling provides a darkly humorous coda in voice-over, noting man's devolution from "dust to dessert" and from ruler of a planet to "an ingredient in someone's soup."

In 2022, with 40 million people in New York City alone, housing is dilapidated and overcrowded; homeless people fill the streets and food is scarce; and most of the population survives on rations produced by the Soylent Corporation, whereof the newest product is Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain "high-energy plankton", more nutritious and palatable than its predecessors "Red" and "Yellow", but in short supply.

New York City Police Department detective Robert Thorn lives with his aged friend Solomon "Sol" Roth, a former scholar who helps Thorn's investigations. While investigating the murder of William R. Simonson, a director of the Soylent Corporation, Thorn questions Shirl, a concubine (referred to as "furniture"), and Tab Fielding, Simonson's bodyguard, who when the murder took place was escorting Shirl to a store selling meat "under the counter" for Simonson. Thorn later gives Roth the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 to 2019 found in Simonson's apartment. At the police station, Thorn tells his lieutenant (Hatcher) that he suspects an assassination, on grounds that nothing was stolen from the apartment; the apartment's sophisticated alarm and security cameras failed to detect the intruder; and Simonson's bodyguard was conveniently absent. Continuing his investigation, Thorn visits Fielding's apartment and questions Fielding's concubine, Martha, helping himself to a teaspoon of strawberry jam, later identified by Roth as too great a luxury for the concubine of a bodyguard. Under questioning, Shirl reveals that Simonson became troubled in the days before his death. Thorn questions a Catholic priest Simonson had visited, but the priest at first fails to remember Simonson and is later unable to describe the confession. Fielding later murders the priest to silence him.

New York Governor Joseph Santini, once Simonson's partner in a high-profile law firm, orders the investigation closed; but Thorn disobeys and the Soylent Corporation dispatches Simonson's murderer to kill Thorn. He tracks Thorn to a ration-distribution whereat police officers are providing security. When the Soylent Green there is exhausted and the crowd riots, the assassin tries to kill Thorn during the confusion, but is crushed by a riot-control vehicle.

Roth takes Soylent's oceanographic reports to a like-minded group of researchers known as the Exchange, who agree that the oceans no longer produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and conclude it is made from human remains. Unable to live with this discovery, Roth seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic. Thorn rushes to stop him, but arrives too late, and is thereafter mesmerized by the euthanasia's visual and auditory display of forests, wild animals, rivers, and ocean life now extinct. Under the influence of a lethal drug, Roth tells Thorn his discovery and begs him to expose the truth. To this end, Thorn stows himself aboard a garbage truck to the disposal-center, where he sees human corpses converted into Soylent Green. Returning to make his report, he is ambushed by Fielding and others; and having failed to summon his colleagues, converses with Shirl before connected to Hatcher. Thorn then retreats into a cathedral filled with homeless people, where he kills Fielding but is seriously injured. When the police arrive, Thorn urges Hatcher to spread the word that "Soylent Green is people!".

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