There aren’t human foetal cells in lots of popular snacks and drinks

28 June 2019
What was claimed

Various multinational food and drink companies use artificial flavourings made by Senomyx which are made from aborted foetal cells.

Our verdict

All but one company confirmed they didn’t use the flavouring product made by the company in question. The cells are not flavourings themselves but used in flavouring development. They are clones of cells taken from the kidney of aborted foetus in 1973.

video on Facebook claims that KraftHeinz, the Coca-Cola Company, Campbell’s, PepsiCo and Nestlé use flavourings made from the cells of aborted babies.

KraftHeinz, the Coca-Cola Company, Campbell’s and PepsiCo all told us this was not the case. Nestlé didn’t respond to our queries.

That aside, the implication that these flavourings are “made of” human cells is misleading. Though cells derived from human tissue may be involved in developing some flavourings, those cells are not in the flavouring itself.

We looked at a very similar claim (focusing solely on Pepsi) in April.

What does the video say?

The video claims that a company called Senomyx creates flavour enhancements for companies like Pepsi, Kraft, Nestlé and Campbell’s.

It goes on to say that Senomyx grafts kidney cells from human aborted foetuses, replicates these cells, and puts them in products including Gatorade, Lay’s chips, Pepsi, Tropicana (all made by PepsiCo), Dasani water and Minute Maid (both made by the Coca-Cola Company).

Text above the video reads “HEK-239 [sic] artificial flavouring uses aborted fetus cells.”

HEK-293 is not a flavouring, and not directly “made from” aborted foetus cells

HEK-293 is the name given to a specific line of cells used in various scientific applications.

It is not in itself a flavouring, but one of its applications  is to help mimic taste-receptor cells in the development of new flavourings.

The original cells were taken from the kidney of an aborted baby in 1973. HEK 293 cells used nowadays are clones of those original cells, but are not themselves the cells of aborted babies.

Senomyx, a biotechnology company, has patents appearing to relate to using HEK-293 cells in developing flavourings. HEK-293 is not in the flavouring itself.

So the video is incorrect in saying that Senomyx themselves “graft kidney cells from human aborted foetuses” and incorrect to say these cells are put into products.

Most of these companies don’t use Senomyx products

When we asked them for comment Campbell’s, KraftHeinz and the Coca-Cola Company said they did not use products made by Senomyx or any flavourings developed using HEK-293 cells in any of their products.

PepsiCo confirmed to us that they do collaborate with Senomyx on research, but that none of that research uses any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or foetuses.

Nestlé did not respond to our questions.

The text accompanying the video is more accurate

The caption accompanying the video clarifies that HEK-293 cells are not themselves found in these products. It also only names Pepsi, Nestlé and Ajinomoto as companies who partner with Senomyx.

However for the purpose of checking this post we have focused on the video.

Update 3 July 2019

The Coca Cola Company confirmed after publication of the article that, in addition to not using any products from Senomyx, it does not use any flavourings developed using HEK-293 cells in any of its products.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because contrary to the claims made in the video the flavourings in question aren’t made from foetal cells, and most of the companies confirmed they do not use the flavourings in question.

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