Pepsi Uses Aborted Fetal Cells for Flavor Enhancing – Facts Analysis

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Pepsi Uses Aborted Fetal Cells for Flavor Enhancing


Pepsi uses aborted fetus cells in their drinks, as an ingredient for creating flavor enhancers.


These health warnings have been circulating since couple of years, asking people to boycott Pepsi drinks as they are using aborted human baby fetal cells for developing flavor enhancers. It is a mixture of hoax and facts.

The Issue

The primary concern of these claims is the use of HEK cells in research and studies to develop flavor enhancers for human consumer products like beverages. This is because HEK 293, i.e. the Human Embryonic Kidney 293 cells used are a specific cell line derived from human embryonic kidney cells of aborted human baby fetus. Use of such human cells from aborted fetuses or embryos in food products is in fact illegal in almost all countries.

It is claimed that Pepsico has partnered with a company called Senomyx which uses these HEK cells for enhancing flavor.

How it Broke

The story was brought into light in March 2011 by Debi Vinnedge of the pro-life group, when she broke the news about the use of aborted fetal cell lines by the company Senomyx in testing its food and beverage flavor enhancers for many food giants including PepsiCo.

Senomyx is an American biotechnology company working towards developing additives to enhance certain flavors and smells in foods. Patents of Senomyx in fact show that they have been using the HEK 293 cells in their studies. One of their website pages, which is now deleted, clearly explains the collaboration agreement of PepsiCo with them:

In August 2010 Senomyx and PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest food and beverage business, entered into a four-year collaborative agreement related to Senomyx’s sweet-taste technology.

PepsiCo’s collaboration with Senomyx will focus on the discovery, development and commercialization of sweet enhancers and natural high-potency sweeteners with the intent to bring to the marketplace lower-calorie, great tasting PepsiCo beverages. The agreement reflects the companies’ shared commitment to offer healthier products to consumers that maintain the sweet taste they want…

Companies Response

Initially, when the news broke out, both PepsiCo and Senomyx refused to accept it. Senomyx insisted that they are only working to make foods and beverages tasty, while reducing the sugar and salt content in them. PepsiCo maintained that they are using the research for developing better flavors for their consumers, and that their products, as an ingredient, did not directly contain the HEK from aborted human fetal cells. However, there is this responsible research statement on PepsiCo’s website:

PepsiCo’s Responsible Research Statement

PepsiCo’s research processes and those of our partners are confidential for competitive reasons.
However, PepsiCo does not conduct or fund research – including research funded by PepsiCo but performed by third parties – that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses.

Use of HEK Cells

In spite of this issue, one should understand that HEK 293 cells are widely in use in pharmaceutical research, as it helps scientists to create vaccines as well as drugs. The same thing is reported by CBS news:

The company (Senomyx) appears to be engineering HEK cells to function like the taste-receptor cells we have in our mouth. This way, Senomyx can test millions of substances to see if they work as different types of taste enhancers without subjecting human volunteers to endless taste tests.

To non-scientists this may sound a bit strange, but the reality is that HEK 293 cells are widely used in pharmaceutical research, helping scientists create vaccines as well as drugs like those for rheumatoid arthritis. The difference here is that Senomyx’s work for Pepsi is one of the first times the cells have (potentially) been used to create a food or beverage. (And it’s important to note that no part of a human kidney cell are ever a part of Senomyx’s taste enhancers or any finished food products.)

According to the CBS news report, Pepsi is not the only food/beverage company to be associated with Senomyx. Kraft’s (KFT) Cadbury unit, Nestle (NESN), the soybean company Solae and the flavor company Firmenich also have similar partnerships.

However, after one year of protests from Pro-lifers to boycott Pepsi products on this issue, PepsiCo wrote a letter to Vinnedge on 26 April 2012 saying Senomyx is not going to use HEK cells or any other human derived cells from embryos or fetuses on behalf of PepsiCo.

Dear Ms. Vinnedge:

We appreciate your contacting us through PepsiCo Consumer Relations, which passed your inquiry to me. In response to your request, I can confirm, on behalf of the Company, that the information you received from our Consumer Relations department is PepsiCo’s position.

We can assure you that PepsiCo does not conduct or fund research – including research performed by third parties – that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses. Furthermore, Senomyx does not use HEK cells or any other tissues or cell lines derived from human embryos or fetuses for research performed on behalf of PepsiCo.

Our Responsible Research Statement is available on our website, under Corporate Governance: Any research funded by PepsiCo and conducted by Senomyx for PepsiCo must abide by this responsible research statement.

To conclude, Pepsi does not use any material from aborted baby fetuses in its finished products. It partnered with the flavor enhancing company Senomyx, which certainly used the controversial and unethical HEK cells from aborted human fetuses for their studies. As pointed by Vinnedge, for their research purpose, Senomyx can use other morally obtained cells like that from Monkey.

Hoax or Fact:

Mixture of hoax and facts.


Recombinant methods for expressing a functional sweet (T1R2/T1R3) taste receptor – Assignee Senomyx, Inc.
Senomyx Corporate Partnerships, PepsiCo
PepsiCo Company Statements and Policies
HEK Cell
Pepsi’s Bizarro World: Boycotted Over Embryonic Cells Linked to Lo-Cal Soda
An end to the Pepsi Boycott!

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Prashanth Damarla