Image Source: Topics in Chinese Medicine.
From the annals of Millennial anxieties and weird politics: The Rantings of a Gothic Atheist had a remarkable post up at the end of January about a law which could come into effect in November 2012 in Oklahoma, USA. The Bill bans the use of human foetuses in food production. Ohh-kay. In fact, the Bill's author refers to the highly politicized debate in the United States on the use of embryonic stem cells in research and industry.
Rantings blogger, Cyc, referred to the LA Times and The Republic of Gilead to quote the proposed legislation: "Senator Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill in my state of Oklahoma that moves to ba[n] the use of aborted human fetuses in food [in] Bill SB 1418." The Bill reads:
STATE OF OKLAHOMA
2nd Session of the 53rd Legislature (2012)
SENATE BILL 1418 By: Shortey
An Act relating to food; prohibiting the manufacture or sale of food or products which use aborted human fetuses; providing for codification; and providing an effective date.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA:
SECTION 1. NEW LAW
A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 1-1150 of Title 63, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:
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.
SECTION 2. This act shall become effective November 1, 2012.
The Daily Oklahoman's NewsOK qualified this story, stating that it referred to a ban on the use of embryonic stem cells from aborted foetuses in the testing of artificial food additives:
Several anti-conservative Websites and news outlets jeered at Shortey as a delusional moron who is attempting to scare the public and gain notoriety through an attention-grabbing law that inevitably did excite the media. Even so, Gawker reports on the company that pro-Life and anti-abortion groups were targeting: PepsiCo. Also in the crosshairs is a company PepsiCo employs, Senomyx:Sen. Ralph Shorty said he is not aware of any company in Oklahoma or anywhere else that is using practices featured in a 1973 science-fiction movie. In “Soylent Green,” small green wafers were said to contain high-energy plankton but were actually made from human corpses.
“People are thinking that this has to do with fetuses being chopped up and put in our burritos,” said Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, who was elected in 2010. “That's not the case. It's beyond that.
“There are companies that are using embryonic stem cells to research and basically cause a chemical reaction to determine whether or not something tastes good or not,” he said. “As a pro-life advocate, it kind of disturbed me that we would use aborted embryos or aborted human fetuses to extract stem cells and use them for research to basically make things taste better.”
Shortey said he filed the bill after reading last fall that an anti-abortion group, Children of God for Life, had called on the public in March 2010 to boycott products of major food companies that partnered with a biotech company that produces artificial flavor enhancers, unless the company stopped using aborted fetal cells to test their products. The company has denied the allegation. A representative of the San Diego-based company did not return a telephone call or email request for comment Tuesday.
Senomyx is a biotech firm that specializes in enhancing flavours and smells of food products. Wiki cites the company's Website as stating that Senomyx is microengineering taste and olfactory senses at the genetic level:NPR speculates that Shortey's bill has to do with a recent boycott aimed at PepsiCo for working with a company called Senomyx that "has been accused of using proteins derived from human embryonic kidney cells in its research."
Other reports on this story are here, here, here and here.Their website claims it has essentially reverse engineered the receptors in humans that react for taste and aroma, and they are capitalizing on these discoveries to produce chemicals that will make food taste better.
Senomyx was founded by prominent biochemist Lubert Stryer in 1999. In May 2001 Stryer returned to his professorship at Stanford University and resigned from Senomyx, but continues to be the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board.
The company developed Substance 951 ... a potentiator used to amplify the sweetness of sugar in food products, thereby allowing the manufacturer to reduce the amount of sugar used.
Using information from the human genome sequence, Senomyx has identified hundreds of taste receptors and currently owns 113 patents on their discoveries. Senomyx collaborates with seven of the world’s largest food companies to further their research and to fund development of their technology. Ajinomoto Co., Inc., Kraft Foods, Cadbury Adams, PepsiCo, Firmenich SA, Nestlé SA, and Solae all collaborate with Senomyx, but decline to specify where its additives may be found in their many food categories. Senomyx’s products work by amplifying the intensity of flavors. Because very small amounts of the additive are used (reportedly less than 1 part per million) Senomyx’s chemical compounds will not appear on labels, but will fall under the broad category of “artificial flavors.”
Meanwhile, the Children of God for Life, the source of the original agitation that drew Senator Shortey's attention, are claiming that embryonic stem cells from aborted foetuses are used in everything from anti-wrinkle creams made by Neocutis, to Campbell's soup, to vaccines (see also here), to low calorie beverages from PepsiCo and Nestlé. Nothing but the best for you if you believe this information and you're on a New Year's diet:
However, Senomyx and PepsiCo separately denied the group's allegations. The uproar over this issue unfolded over the course of 2010-2011, and has attracted the attention of Forbes, which commented generally on the growing popular fear of scientific innovations and advancements. When mingled with religion and politics, this fear can change the course of research and development. Matthew Herper, Forbes house writer, observed in a burgeoning anti-Biotech sentiment some concerns for the future:(Largo, FL) Children of God for Life is calling on the public to boycott products of major food companies that are partnering with Senomyx, a biotech company that produces artificial flavor enhancers, unless the company stops using aborted fetal cell lines to test their products.
In 2010, the pro-life organization wrote to Senomyx CEO Kent Snyder, pointing out that moral options for testing their food additives could and should be used. But when Senomyx ignored their letter, they wrote to the companies Senomyx listed on their website as "collaborators" warning them of public backlash and threatened boycott. Food giants Pepsico, Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup, Solae and Nestlé are the primary targets of the boycott, though Senomyx boasts other international partners on their website.
Senomyx website states that “The company's key flavor 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.” ...
“What they do not tell the public is that they are using HEK 293 – human embryonic kidney cells taken from an electively aborted baby to produce those receptors”, stated Debi Vinnedge, Executive Director for Children of God for Life, a pro-life watch dog group that has been monitoring the use of aborted fetal material in medical products and cosmetics for years.
“They could have easily chosen COS (monkey) cells, Chinese Hamster Ovary cells, insect cells or other morally obtained human cells expressing the G protein for taste receptors”, Vinnedge added.
In writing to their collaborators, it took three letters before Nestlé finally admitted the truth about their relationship with Senomyx, noting the cell line was “well established in scientific research".
After hearing Ms Vinnedge speak publicly on the problem, angry consumers began writing the companies. Both Pepsico and Campbell Soup immediately responded.
Shockingly, Pepsico wrote: “We hope you are reassured to learn that our collaboration with Senomyx is strictly limited to creating lower-calorie, great-tasting beverages for consumers. This will 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.”
Campbell Soup was more concerned in their response: “Every effort is made to use the finest ingredients and develop the greatest selection of products, all at a great value. With this in mind, it must be said that the trust we have cultivated and developed over the years with our consumers is not worth compromising to cut costs or increase profit margins."
That's it in a nutshell. If we are infinitely malleable, and nano-biotech tells us we are, then our entire system of spiritual understanding will surely follow to encompass that fact. It will not be an easy process, on either side of the political and spiritual divide, as bioethics float away in a soup of medical advancements and moral relativism. In the meantime, the aborted Dutch foetus, whose kidney cells were cultivated by Alex Van der Eb and Frank Graham at the University of Leiden in the early 1970s, has become the core of modern molecular biology. The foetus's cells that were used to form the now-widely-used cell culture are referred to as HEK293. 'HEK' stands for 'human embryonic kidney.' 293 stands for Van der Eb's 293rd experiment. The HEK293 baby lives on, resurrected after death in curious, Millennial immortality.I think this bill is anti-medicine, anti-biotech, and anti-business, but I also think that Shortey has a point, and that his effort highlights a deep divide in the way people understand and feel about science ... . No person or entity is manufacturing food or other products intended for human consumption that contain aborted human fetuses. But some food companies are using cell lines that were originally derived from human fetuses in order to develop new food products. Moreover, [they are used in] many medicines and vaccines, which I suppose could be seen as “meant for human consumption.”
The fetus-derived cell line we’re talking about ... is 35-year-old technology. And it is widely used in cell biology. And there is no way you’ll consume them or that the cells would cause any health problems.
The cells, called HEK 293 cells (that stands for human embryonic kidney) were taken from an aborted fetus in the 1970s in the Netherlands. Bits of chopped up DNA from the adenovirus, a virus that causes a pretty severe cold. The kidney cells were forced to take up bits of DNA using a technique invented in 1973 that used a calcium solution. The resulting cells don’t act much like human cells at all, but they are very easy to work with and have become workhorses of cellular biology. That’s why they’re used in the development of drugs and vaccines. (Here’s the original paper on the creation of the HEK cells. ) No new fetal tissue has been used to keep the cell culture going; the use of this cell line isn’t leading to new abortions.
A tiny company called Synomyx, whose stock is trading near its 52-week low, has been working to use this new technology to create food additives. Synomix has isolated receptors found on cells that detect taste, and added them to the HEK cells. This allows them to test thousands of potential taste additives to see whether they might taste sweet or savory with a speed that would be impossible with human taste testers. (You can find a scientific paper on the Synomyx sweetener work here. ) ...
I don’t think many people in science or in the drug business would think of using HEK cells as “using aborted fetuses.” To a very large extent, the HEK 293 line is being caught up in the embryonic stem cell politics of a decade later. But I can see how people who think fetal tissue should never be used in any medicine would see a problem here. I can also understand how a lot of biotechnology can seem a little scary and Frankenstein-like, because it emphasizes how malleable and manipulable our basic parts are. The fact that we can so manipulate biology challenges our view of ourselves as spiritual beings in control of our own destinies.
We’re ... dealing with a new kind of technology that is in many fundamental ways made of us. That’s going to become an even bigger problem as these technologies become more ubiquitous, as is likely to happen over the coming years as tools like DNA sequencing and synthetic biology – the power to really design cells in ways that the creators of the HEK line could only dream about – increase in their reach and usefulness. We’re embarking on something new and important as a species. Mocking the doubters for not being hip doesn’t quite seem the right way to move forward.