Aborted babies used in food
Fact Check-PepsiCo drinks do not contain ‘aborted fetal cells’
By Reuters Fact Check
5 Min Read
Beverages produced by PepsiCo do not contain aborted fetal cells.
This false claim spread online via an image that listed brands allegedly connected with PepsiCo under the headline: “Foods that contain aborted fetal cells” (here , here , here , here).
The post presents no evidence and plays into misinformation on these products that has been in circulation for years. The original author of the post later apologised for “some inaccurate information” but did not delete it (here).
The claim originates from 2010 when the food and drink company PepsiCo (here) signed a four-year deal with Senomyx (here), a biotechnology company that develops sweeteners (here).
A year later, a US-based anti-abortion group called ‘Children of God for Life’ called for a boycott on companies partnered with Senomyx, which they alleged was using “aborted fetal cell lines to test their products”. They claimed Senomyx was using human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells “taken from an electively aborted baby” to produce human taste receptors. The cells were called HEK-293 (here).
Google Patents shows that Senomyx had a patent issued in 2008 for “Recombinant Methods for Expressing a Functional Sweet Taste Receptor” that mentioned HEK-293 cells (here , here).
A 2014 article in the scientific journal Nature said the HEK-293 cell line originates from the kidney of an aborted human embryo from 1973. The cells were cloned and are widely used in biomedical research (here).
The patent therefore suggests that Senomyx used cloned cells derived from an aborted embryo, a developing baby at the early stages (here , page 18).
PepsiCo has denied any involvement with HEK-293 cells.
In a 2012 letter, a PepsiCo vice president responded to the boycott by Children of God for Life and told consumers that PepsiCo did not conduct or fund research that utilised cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses, and that Senomyx did not use HEK cells for research on behalf of PepsiCo (here).
PepsiCo confirmed to Reuters that this was still the case.
“At one time PepsiCo did have a relationship with Senomyx exploring the development of new sweeteners and flavor enhancers,” a PepsiCo spokesperson said, but “PepsiCo’s commercial relationship with Senomyx has ended and we do not use any Senomyx ingredients in our products.”
The spokesperson added: “As always, PepsiCo absolutely does not conduct or fund research that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses.”
Reuters Fact Check previously debunked claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain “aborted fetal tissue” here and here .
False. PepsiCo told Reuters that the company does not use any Senomyx ingredients in its products and does not fund or conduct research using cells derived from human embryos or fetuses.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Processed foods contain human fetal cells claim is pure junk
An Instagram user is warning people away from processed foods, posting a meme which claims many products are flavoured using fetal cells from aborted babies.
The claim is false. It is a longstanding myth based on reports US company Senomyx used laboratory-grown cells in the early stages of flavour development. The laboratory cells were derived from a real human cell taken from an aborted fetus in the early 1970s, but were many generations removed from the original cell.
Most major food and drink companies state they do not use Senomyx products or any ingredients developed using cells derived from human fetuses.
The meme published on Instagram on August 28 is headlined: “THERE IS HUMAN FETUS CELLS IN THE FOOD PRODUCTS YOU BUY”.
The meme’s text says: “The food products you buy use Aborted Fetal Cells as Flavor. All processed products you buy has it … they are using HEK 293 – human embryonic kidney cells taken from an electively aborted baby”.
It goes on to claim there were “40+ million” abortions each year. “What do you think they do with this amount? They use them for flavor … Research: Senomyx.”The Instagram post claims aborted human fetuses are used in the food industry.
The claim appears to be based on a misinterpretation of Senomyx’s flavour-testing research. In 2011, the Miami New Times reported Senomyx used laboratory-grown ‘cell lines’ to replicate human taste receptors.
Cell lines are ‘immortal’ laboratory-grown cells used in research in place of real human or animal tissues. Cell lines are often used in research because they provide an unlimited supply of cell matter and bypass ethical concerns associated with the use of animal and human cells.
Senomyx used cell lines in the early stages of its flavour-testing process to identify which flavours created a reaction when mixed with taste receptor proteins. A Senomyx executive described the process to the Miami New Times as “basically a robotic tasting system”.
Flavours that showed potential in laboratory experiments were put forward for taste tests with real people.
The cell line used in the Senomyx experiments was reportedly HEK-293, widely used in biotechnology research. Research describing Senomyx’s flavour-testing using HEK-293 cell lines was published here in 2002 and here in 2010.
Some people have raised ethical concerns about the use of HEK-293 (see here and here), because the cell line was derived from a kidney cell taken from an aborted human fetus in 1973.
The original cell was isolated and cloned, and its ‘offspring’ have since been used in biomedical research and vaccine production. No new fetal cells are required to keep the cell line in production.
In 2011, US-based anti-abortion group Children of God for Life campaigned against Senomyx’s use of what it called “aborted fetal cell lines”, urging consumers to boycott food and drink manufacturers partnered with Senomyx.
PepsiCo, a Senomyx partner company targeted in the campaign, responded by saying the claims were “misinformation”.
“These claims are meant to suggest that human fetal tissue is somehow used in our research. That is both inaccurate and something we would never do or even consider,” a Pepsi representative told the group, according to emails published on the Children of God for Life website.
“It also is inaccurate to suggest that tissue or cells somehow are being used as product ingredients. That’s dangerous, unethical and against the law. Every ingredient in every one of our products is reviewed and approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” Pepsi wrote.
Claims that food and drink products contain aborted fetal tissue have since been debunked here, here, here and here.
In 2019, UK fact-checking organisation Full Fact asked several global food companies if their products contained flavours developed using HEK-293 cells.
Campbell’s, KraftHeinz and Coca-Cola said they did not use any Senomyx products or any flavourings developed using HEK-293 cells. PepsiCo said it had a research partnership with Senomyx, but none of that research used cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses.A food expert says it’s illegal to use any form of human tissue in Australian food products.
Food scientist Gary Kennedy told AAP FactCheck it is illegal to use human fetal cells or any other human tissue in Australian food and drink products.
“In Australia, it wouldn’t actually be allowed,” he said in a phone interview.
“You could do it within a laboratory or a medical research facility, but if there was even a hint of a human fetal cell in a food product, that would be illegal in Australia because we can’t eat humans in Australia. If there was, in any way, any human product in it, it would be illegal in Australia.”
Mr Kennedy said Senomyx’s flavour-testing process was “unusual” and appeared to be novel technology.
Most flavour and scent companies tested new formulas using what he called “traditional methods” including putting a small amount of scent on a piece of paper and “wafting it” in front of human testers.
“A bit like master winemakers or master cheesemakers, masters in flavour houses are in demand because they pick up really subtle notes,” Mr Kennedy said.
Senomyx was acquired in 2018 by Swiss fragrance and flavourings company Firmenich.
The claim processed foods use flavourings made from aborted babies is false. US firm Senomyx previously tested new flavours using laboratory-grown cell lines reportedly derived from cells taken from the kidney of an aborted human fetus in the early 1970s, but they are many generations removed from the original fetal cell.
Most major food and drink companies say they do not have a commercial relationship with Senomyx and do not use any human tissue or human tissue derivatives in their products.
False – The claim is inaccurate.
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Approximate reading time: 4 minutes
In some restaurants in China, you can order soup from babies who are 6-7 months old from the moment of conception. This dish costs from 3,000 to 4,000 yuan ($428.5-571.4) per serving. It is believed that such a soup raises tone and vitality, and in older men it significantly increases potency.
An American correspondent managed to learn the secrets of cooking and the details of Chinese cannibalism. A familiar businessman by the name of Wang, who is already over 62 years old, invited the journalist to see everything with his own eyes. For several weeks, the man conducted his investigation and revealed many facts.
Their first stop was in Foshan City, Guangdong Province, where they went to a restaurant and Wang asked a manager he knew if they could make this dish for them. The manager said that they don't have babies in stock right now, but they do have fresh placenta. He further said that they had young spouses in mind who had come from the village to work and that the woman was pregnant with twins and all girls. The couple were going to stimulate premature birth and abandon the children. And then, according to the manager, there will be products for the dish they need.
The correspondent still didn't quite believe all this. For several weeks he conducted an investigation in the city, heard many stories about it, but he could not get any concrete evidence. Then Wang called the reporter and said that the product was already available, and that it was now cooler, and several of his friends wanted to improve their health.
This time they went to Taishan City, Guangdong Province. We found the right restaurant, where they were already waiting. And then, while the whole company at the table was waiting for the order, the correspondent was given the opportunity to go to the kitchen and look. There, for the first time, he saw with his own eyes what he had already heard a lot about. On the cutting table lay a small corpse of an infant who was only 5 months old. The cook apologized to him that the baby was very small and told him that they usually get the "product" through their channels from the villages. The cook did not explain what their purchase price was, but said that it depends on the size of the baby and whether he is alive or dead.
Everyone sitting at the table that evening in the restaurant poured the soup into bowls, divided the baby's meat and ate everything to the crumbs with relish. The correspondent himself could not overcome himself and try this dish.
Male fetuses are considered the most valuable. Everyone knows that in China, without persecution by the law, you can only have one child. Women are thus generally treated as second class, and whenever a newborn girl appears in a poor family, the husband and wife are faced with a choice: either kill themselves, or kill the child, or sell the girl on the black market as food.
Small fetuses boiled for soup. Late uterine fruits are eaten like roasted suckling pigs. Also, dead embryos are used as a supplement to the diet, according to doctors, the embryos are good for skin condition and general health and are recommended as a tonic.
In government clinics, fetal fetuses are priced at $10 each, but when supply is low, the price can go up to $20. But this money is pennies, compared to the prices in private clinics, which are reported to make a lot of money on fetal fetuses.
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Cell culture, vaccine ethics - Indicator
Some representatives of religious communities reject the coronavirus vaccination: it is blamed for its production on pork gelatin, which would make it haram, not kosher, and at the same time not meeting the requirements of Great Lent. The Council of Ulema (experts on Islam) in the UAE reassured Muslims, calling for any vaccine against COVD-19 to be considered halal, regardless of its composition. The Pope agreed that since there is no choice, then we must take what they give. Israel seems to be coping as well, leading the world in terms of the percentage of the vaccinated population. As Western companies (and after them domestic ones) assured, the vaccines do not contain pork components. But the problems of coronavirus vaccines did not end there, because vaccine manufacturers were convicted of using aborted material - the HEK29 cell line.3. This information shocked many: is it really necessary to destroy others to save some lives? The answer to this question is not so simple.
Cannibalism, vaccines and chocolates
According to the Fundamentals of the Social Concept document, which the Russian Orthodox Church adheres to, "any use of abortive tissues, including for the production of vaccinations, cannot be justified from a moral point of view." However, the manufacturers of the Sputnik-V vaccine admitted that the HEK 29 line was used to manufacture the components. 3 (Human embryonic kidney 293 cells), obtained from the kidneys of an aborted human embryo. “We have a line that was isolated from human cells in 1973. <...> In order to produce adenoviral particles, these cells are grown,” said Vladimir Gushchin, head of the laboratory of mechanisms of population variability of pathogenic microorganisms at the Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology.
Same story with other vaccines. For example, the HEK 29 line is also used to propagate adenovector carrier viruses (like our Sputnik-V) from AstraZeneca3, and the Janssen and Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses PER.C6. There is no “humanity” in the preparation itself: thanks to buffer washing systems and chromatographic purification, even excess proteins, let alone cells, do not remain in the preparation. But after this information, many people have a residue: cannibalism is seriously discussed on the Internet, despite Academician Gunzburg’s direct answer that no one kills unborn babies for coronavirus vaccines. For this purpose, cells were taken once from an already aborted fetus, sometimes more than half a century ago. At the same time, abortions were carried out not specifically to obtain cells, but for medical reasons or at the request of the mother. The main criteria for a cell line are one type, one source, and the ability to divide outside the body. Descendants-clones of those cells that have been kept and bred for decades in a test tube, under laboratory conditions, are now being used.
No one will forbid you to refuse vaccines if it contradicts some beliefs. But keep in mind that the same HEK 293 line is used to test nutritional supplements and all sorts of other products. For example, Senomyx has patented more than 100 products where the embryonic cell line was used in the testing phase. And now such corporations as Nestle, Heinz, Pepsi put these additives in instant soups, kinders and other chocolates, ketchups, cream, chips, bouillon cubes and so on. Those interested can read a growing list of all such products, cosmetics and medicines from the American pro-life organization Children of God for life. “Cells were forced to produce a sweetness receptor protein. The sweeter the substance that was added to the cells, the more calcium appeared in the cell. And it can be measured. The approach is no more complicated than those used to test future drugs. Why HEK239? An alternative would be receptor cells from the mouth. But to obtain cell lines from them is long, expensive and very difficult. It was much more convenient to take a cell line that is easy to grow and easy to modify. When you need to test hundreds of thousands of molecules, there is no better approach. After testing with candidate substances, they already worked with quite ordinary methods of food chemistry, ”says molecular biologist Ekaterina Gracheva.
The choice here is small. You can stop eating everything that you didn’t grow yourself in the garden, refuse drugs (which are always studied on cell lines, then on animals, and only then are they tested on humans). Another option is to achieve the abolition of embryonic and human cell cultures, and instead test drugs directly on animals, and even on humans. But without preliminary selection on the cells of the participants in such experiments, it will take hundreds of thousands of times more to develop each drug. Then most of them will die, and the cost of each product and medicine will increase tremendously, which will cause even greater victims, because no one can afford such expensive drugs and food.
Embryonic cells everywhere
The Russian collection of vertebrate cell cultures alone contains about 50 varieties of human cell lines. Most of them are derived from cancerous tumors. From the embryos here are lung cells (WI-38 VA 13 subline 2RA, as well as FLECH and LECH under different numbers), and musculoskeletal tissue (ChEF 392/1, M-FetMSC), and bone marrow (FetMSC), and kidneys (PECh693/30), and embryonic stem cells (SC5). There is even a line of FRSN, which was obtained from the foreskin of a child. And this is only a part of the All-Union (Russian) collection of cell cultures, founded in 1978, which includes both animal cells and cells of higher plants, and genetically transformed cells of plant roots. But human cells are very different from them, so they are required in drug trials and other products.
Embryonic cell lines are widely used in scientific research, drug testing and nutritional supplement testing. Thus, the WI-38 line is diploid (with a double set of chromosomes) fibroblast cells. Its source was a sample of lung connective tissue from a three-month-old female embryo. It developed and tested vaccines for many viruses, primarily against rubella. PER.C6, which was received at 1985 from retinal cells of an 18-week-old embryo, it is used to develop and manufacture vaccines, gene therapy products, antibodies against rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, and various drug proteins. Now at the stage of clinical trials - vaccines against rabies, HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. The MRC-5 line, which was isolated in 1966 from the lungs of a 14-week-old boy, was named after the Medical Research Council. The abortion in this case took place in England at 1966 "for psychiatric reasons. "
Why are embryonic and other human cell lines so good? They can be used to test the toxicity of drugs to humans, they are diluted with human viruses to make neutralized carrier platforms for vaccines. To use a whole person for such purposes, you see, would be even less ethical. At the same time, it is very difficult to grow human cells in the laboratory, and many attempts ended in failure, until scientists got the idea to use the “youngest” ones obtained from embryos. As a result, as of 2020, only for HEK 29 cells3 more than 58 thousand scientific publications appeared. “When studying viruses and immune responses in the laboratory, these cell lines are inevitably used to provide reliable results that are relevant to humans,” said Helen Petousis-Harris, chair of the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety.
Frequently used cell lines are chosen because they are cheap and easy to breed in the laboratory. Thus, WI-38 cells multiply quickly and easily and survive about 50 divisions, each of which takes about a day. By the way, they were identified by Leonard Hayflick, a scientist who discovered the very Hayflick limit, that is, a limit on the number of divisions that a cell can survive. In addition, WI-38 and some embryonic cultures tolerate freezing well, which means they are easy to transport.
And that's not to mention stem cells of embryonic origin. The fact is that embryonic stem cells in the early stages exist in a pluripotent state, when they have not yet decided what kind of tissue they will turn into. Until these cells begin to differentiate into three germ layers from which different types of tissues will develop, they have more than 200 variants and are like kindergarten children who can learn any profession. In an adult organism, the circle of choice even for stem cells narrows: if a child at school for 11 years is only interested in languages and literature, then it is unlikely that he will be able to enter the chemical, medical or engineering faculty. So, the potential of embryonic stem cells is theoretically unlimited: one can learn from them how to grow tissues and organs for transplantation. Now biologists and doctors are trying hard to figure out how to do this.
“Embryonic stem cell research is associated with something controversial. The key word “abortion” immediately comes to mind. But these cells are obtained not only from abortive material, but also from in vitro fertilization programs, which are popularly called "test-tube babies." Formally, this is a failed life, extra cells left over from the program. It is around them that the world's largest ethical discussion unfolds. And when it comes to the use of fetal cells obtained from the remnants of abortive tissue, there are much fewer ethical problems in the Western world,” says Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Medical Sciences Gennady Sukhikh.
“Is it ethical to flush priceless material down the drain?”
Does this mean that the use of cell cultures is absolutely ethical? The short and simplistic answer to this question would be "not really". The fact is that in the years when samples of many cell cultures that exist today were taken, the legislation did not regulate this issue practically in any way. For example, we know that both WI-38 and HEK 293 are derived from legal abortions where the pregnancy was terminated artificially at the request of the mother: the first occurred in Sweden at 1962, the second in the Netherlands in 1973. But these women did not give consent to the further use of cells. According to the rules, the aborted fetuses had to be destroyed, and the mothers in both cases did not even know that the cells of their unborn children had gained a second life. Doctors contacted one of them only many years later.
However, this did not happen through the fault of evil geniuses: at that time there was no legal basis for registering a cell line on your own, not to mention the possibility of registering living tissue as property and protecting the rights of the person to whom it belongs. A similar fate befell the progenitor of the "immortal" HeLa cell line, Henrietta Lacks, who died in poverty. Her family did not know for many years that women affected by cervical cancer cells gained the ability to divide forever (by the way, this is one of the reasons why cancer cell lines are so valuable), and therefore they have done a great service to science.
However, today the situation has changed, and it is illegal to use your cells or the cells of an embryo received from you without a written voluntary consent. If any individual physicians or scientists act in this way, the community will not approve of them. In Russia, this area is regulated by the Federal Law “On Biomedical Cell Products”, which generally prohibits the use of biomaterial obtained from human embryos or fetuses for the production of biomedical cell products. The rules for posthumous donation are also spelled out there, and the sale and purchase of biological material from a donor is prohibited.
The future goals of many spiritual leaders are the development and use of less controversial cell lines - not from embryonic sources, but simply derived from humans, or even from animals or plants. One could also use cells from miscarriages rather than abortions. So far, there are no such options for many vaccines and drugs. Meanwhile, the number of lives saved by WI-38 vaccines alone against polio, rubella, mumps, measles, adenovirus, rabies, hepatitis A and herpes is estimated at 10.