An Oklahoma lawmaker has proposed legislation to ban any use of foetuses in food in one of the more bizarre twists in the emotive US battle over abortion.
The bill comes after wild rumours began circulating online and among anti-abortion groups that soft drink giant, Pepsi, was using aborted foetuses in its products. The company has denounced the urban legend as completely false.
"PepsiCo does not conduct or fund research that utilises any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos," said spokesman Peter Land.
The rumours were originally triggered by a patent application by a Pepsi supplier which cited the use of the HEK293 cell line in developing processes for an artificial taste-tester.
Originally derived from the kidneys of an aborted fetus in the 1970s, HEK293 is an easy-to-clone line of cells widely used in biotech research.
Oklahoma state senator Ralph Shortey said he has been researching the issue for about a year and is concerned there are no rules preventing the use of embryonic stem cells or fetal tissue in food and other products.
He introduced the bill in order to raise public awareness and preventing companies from engaging in any such "immoral" practices in his central plains state.
"It's not like I think companies are chopping up foetuses and using them as ingredients in food," Shortey said.
Crossing the moral line
But Shortey alleged the patent is proof that the supplier - Senomyx -has crossed a moral line by using "kidneys from aborted foetuses" as "taste receptors" to see how the cells respond to different artificial flavouring.
"How ethical is it to use what I consider a destroyed human life to make food taste better," he said.
Biotech firm Senomyx did not return requests from AFP to comment on the issue, neither did the US Food and Drug Administration.
Shortey's draft legislation, which will go before the Oklahoma senate in February 2012, states: "no person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human foetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients."
Shortey - a Republican elected in 2010 - has previously courted controversy by introducing a bill to deny state citizenship rights such as owning property to the US-born children of undocumented immigrants.
(AFP, January 2012)