Thursday, August 23, 2012

Soylent Green Ain't the Only Thing That's People

In a recent discussion I told my husband that the problem that doing a research document is that on occasion you get to the end of the story and find it isn't something you wanted to know. Constantly tracking down rumours for the sake of entertainment, one often comes to the conclusion involving an individual or group's vivid imagination blown WAY out of proportion and carried along the internet waves by other people needing a cause for worry. So, I have been hearing the whispering for some time about Pepsi and other companies using "aborted fetal cells" in their products. This particular rumour has not died down over the last year - it persists. Let's have a look.

 The culprit of the uproar is the company Senomyx [1] and the HEK293 cells [2,3,4,5,] it is using to enhance the flavour receptors in food products. HEK stands for Human Embyonic Kidney - the cells are cloned, but did come from an aborted fetus, although many years ago.[6] HEK293 is valued for its ability to release proteins which stimulate both the sweetness and the umami (meat or savory) taste receptors making foods and drinks more palatable. Senomyx has patented this process for several reasons. [7] In several statements to the media, the company has denied using HEK293 for any purpose other than taste-testing products to find ways to make foods taste better. However, in their patent while Senomyx does state their goal to use the resulting proteins for screening foods and beverages, several of their objectives discuss the use of HEK293's proteins "as an ingredient in food and beverage compounds" or "for their ability to enhance, mimic, block and/or modulate sweet taste perception, in a mammal, preferably human" or worse, "to identify compounds that modulate the taste of animal feed formulations for use in, e.g., fish aquaculture." [7] Ok, eeww, that is enough of that.

But the question still remains, what link does Senomyx have with Pepsico or any other food industry? According to The Wall Street Journal and the Daily Market's Stock Exchange report,[8,9] Pepsico and Senomyx penned a multi-million dollar deal in 2010 for research and development, and according to the contract, gave Pepsico "exclusive rights to the Senomyx sweet flavor ingredients developed under the collaboration for use in its non-alcoholic beverages." After a stockholder request to cease using HEK293 based sweeteners due to a world-wide ban in late 2011,[10] Pepsico refused to succumb to pressure by tabling the matter for their meeting in January.[11] However, after increased fiscal pressure due to boycotting, Pepsico released a statement and changed their website policies in April of this year stating that neither they nor any third party would use HEK cell lines for their products. [12,13] I think it is acceptable to assume that Pepsico products are now satisfactory for those with conscience objections.

On September 16, 2011, Congress passed HR 1249, banning the patenting of human organisms, including fetuses or embryos, which reads, “Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no patent may issue on a claim directed to or encompassing a human organism." [14] This prevents any new company with creating cells like HEK293 for human consumption, but it still leaves HEK293 and its generated protein enhancers on the market. You might be surprised just who is using Senomyx for research. In July of 2011, after the boycott with Pepsico became so vigorous, Senomyx brought down its main development website listing its goals and main business collaborators.[15] Two business collaborators, Solae and Campbell Soup have come forward to the media denouncing their ties with the company and vowing, similar to Pepsico, not to use HEK293 cell lines in their products. That leaves 1) Nestle, who denies their relationship with Senomyx but Senomyx states that before terminating their relationship in 2009 that Nestle had selected one of their ingredients for use in the coffee and coffee whitener and states on their updated site that although the collaborative period was over, "development activities are ongoing" and Nestle was listed on the 2011 fiscal statements for Senomyx. Interesting. [16,17] 2) Kraft, who is researching sweeteners in gum is doing so under the company Cadbury Adams and is also investigating medical confectioneries. [18] 3) Finally there is Ajinomoto, one of the world's largest suppliers of MSG and aspartame.[19,17] Yum! Yum!

At this point I would like to thank Coca-cola and other companies for realizing that linking up with Senomyx was a mistake and there were better ways to find the sweetness and savoriness they required. Yes, I do understand that by choosing Chromocell, they are using CHO [Chinese hamster ovary] and insect cell lines.[20,21,22] Still, given the choice between a hamster and Soylent Green, I think I'll take the hamster.

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