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Environment

Foodies Find Common Cause with Anti-Abortion Activists

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What happens when the ideological agenda of crunchy granola food activists intersects with the religious agenda of anti-abortion activists? You get this (recycled, bizarro) nonsense from a Seattle-based organic food advocacy website:

Biotech companies have been using aborted human fetal cells for testing the effectiveness of different flavoring agent in their products. Last year the news came out that a biotech company in CA called Senomyx has been using aborted human fetal cells in foods and beverages. A pro-life watchdog group called Children of God for Life (CGL) has been calling the marketing scheme of the biotech companies deceptive and use of aborted human fetal cells unethical and immoral. Debi Vinnedge, the director of CGL in an interview mentions that why the biotech doesn’t come out clean and tell the public that they are using human embryonic kidney cells (HEK-293) taken from aborted babies to produce human taste receptors?

I don't have the time or patience to deconstruct this latest bit of scare-mongering propaganda circulating on the fringes of the biotech-averse food movement. Fortunately, Matthew Herper at Forbesdove earnestly into the loopy story a year ago, when it was getting traction. As he wrote, "The fetus-derived cell line we’re talking about" is a 35-year-old technology" that is "used in the development of drugs and vaccines." Moreover, this biotech flavoring experiment is not some dastardly scheme. Rather, Herper explained:

There’s a huge public health upside to what Synomyx is doing. They are developing flavors that mimic sugar, salt, and also savory tastes. I’m a guy who doesn’t drink soda because of the health risk involved. But replacing ingredients that can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer strikes me as a useful endeavor. The creation of a medicine like Pulmozyme for cystic fibrosis, which the Children of God For Life says also used HEK cells, seems even more worthwhile. So do the vaccines from Merck and GlaxoSmithKline that the group also opposes. 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.

He's absolutely right on that score. This is a front in the GMO wars that is neglected by biotech advocates. It's tricky terrain. How do you address widespread unease of biotechnology without resorting to ridicule or the anti-science label? That's a challenge that's needs to be taken on. UPDATE: As CBS reported last year, "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."

[This is the image accompanying a related article at a "wellness" site]

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