Proposed Legislation in Oklahoma Would Outlaw Using Human Fetuses in Food


Tasty HEK 293 cells?

Who knew this was a problem? The anti-cannibalism bill [download] introduced by State Senator Ralph Shortey (R), reads:

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.

Apparently, the senator has heard that, Senomyx, a flavor research company in San Diego, has patented a taste receptor system using proteins derived from the cell line Human Embryonic Kidney 293 (HEK 293) as a way to test novel flavors. The Miami New Times reported that HEK 293 is: 

… a cell line that started in the 1970s from human embryonic kidney cells. The line was cultured by scientist Alex Van der Eb in the early 1970s at his lab at the University of Leiden, Holland. Since then, the cell line has been cultured and grown in laboratories (you can buy some here). It's primary use is as a protein or a protein vessel -- sort of a natural test tube. It's also pretty common and seems to be available at most laboratory supply companies and used by many R&D facilities. In short, maybe not such a big deal.

Senomyx apparently works with leading food companies, including PepsiCo, Nestle, Kraft Foods, and Campbell Soups on flavor research. Introducing the bill has not too surprisingly garnered Sen. Shortey numerous headlines. The senator tells The Atlantic blog:

"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.'"

Well, yes. One might think that since the bill does say "contains aborted human fetuses." 

Mea culpa: My colleague Nick Sibilla was much faster in addressing the fetal food ban.