A post on Facebook claims that Pepsi uses a flavouring made from the cells of aborted babies.
The claim is inaccurate. It’s a misunderstanding to say that flavouring is “made of” human cells. PepsiCo have said they do not conduct or fund any research that uses tissue or cell lines derived from human embryo or foetal cells, and that the flavourings in question are not developed in this way.
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The claim centres on something called “HEK-293”
HEK-293 is the name given to a specific line of cells used in various scientific applications.
It is not in itself a flavouring (as the post suggests), 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.
Why do people think Pepsi’s flavourings are developed using HEK 293?
In 2010 PepsiCo entered into a contract with biotech firm Senomyx related to “Senomyx’s sweet-taste technology.”
Senomyx have patents appearing to relate to using HEK 293 cells for developing flavourings. And in 2014 a Senomyx-developed sweetener called Sweetmyx was approved for use by Pepsi.
So some people assumed that PepsiCo flavourings were developed using these HEK 293 cells.
However PepsiCo said in 2012:
“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.”
They confirmed to us this was still the case.