The Christian media is swarming with accusations that Senomyx, a San Diego-based research and development company, whose clients include food heavy-hitters Nestle, Campbell’s Soup, Kraft Foods, and PepsiCo, is conducting research with HEK293, originally derived from human embryonic kidney cells.
These accusations began with an action alert issued by Largo, Florida-based Children of God for Life, a nonprofit, pro-life organization focused on the “bioethical issues of human cloning, embryonic, and fetal tissue research.” In the alert, Debi Vinnedge, executive director of Children of God, calls for 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.”
I asked Rosenberg if Senomyx had a position on stem cell research. “We’ve never been asked that,” she replied, “We don’t have a position on anything. We’re dedicated to finding new flavors to reduce sugars and reduce salt. Our focus is to help consumers with diabetes or high blood pressure have a better quality of life.”
So what exactly is HEK293? It’s 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.
The cells they’re talking about have “technically” originated from aborted fetus cells, but it’s not like scientists are putting fetus body parts into blenders while laughing. Think of the fetus cells as sort of “ancient ancestors” to the new cells that are readily used today as “building blocks” and receptors in many commonplace scientific experiments in universities, hospitals, and commercial labs.
If we’re going to discuss whether or not to use these cells, wouldn’t we all rather be arguing over something more important than ‘flavor flakes’? And if not, maybe it’s time to reassess our relationship with food:
There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Andrea adds: I read the article, and the author draws attention to this issue, while thinking that it doesn’t matter. I personally do think it matters. I very much wish we wouldn’t ever use a fetus at any stage for scientific experimentation or development. But once we as a culture decide we are, I’m not sure it matters whether it’s for taste development at a food company or vaccines: both are equally disturbing to me.by