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Fact Check-PepsiCo drinks do not contain ‘aborted fetal cells’

Beverages produced by PepsiCo do not contain aborted fetal cells.

This false claim spread online via an image that listed brands allegedly connected with PepsiCo under the headline: “Foods that contain aborted fetal cells” (here , here , here , here).

The post presents no evidence and plays into misinformation on these products that has been in circulation for years. The original author of the post later apologised for “some inaccurate information” but did not delete it (here).

The claim originates from 2010 when the food and drink company PepsiCo (here) signed a four-year deal with Senomyx (here), a biotechnology company that develops sweeteners (here).

A year later, a US-based anti-abortion group called ‘Children of God for Life’ called for a boycott on companies partnered with Senomyx, which they alleged was using “aborted fetal cell lines to test their products”. They claimed Senomyx was using human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells “taken from an electively aborted baby” to produce human taste receptors. The cells were called HEK-293 (here).

Google Patents shows that Senomyx had a patent issued in 2008 for “Recombinant Methods for Expressing a Functional Sweet Taste Receptor” that mentioned HEK-293 cells (here , here).

A 2014 article in the scientific journal Nature said the HEK-293 cell line originates from the kidney of an aborted human embryo from 1973. The cells were cloned and are widely used in biomedical research (here).

The patent therefore suggests that Senomyx used cloned cells derived from an aborted embryo, a developing baby at the early stages (here , page 18).

PepsiCo has denied any involvement with HEK-293 cells.

In a 2012 letter, a PepsiCo vice president responded to the boycott by Children of God for Life and told consumers that PepsiCo did not conduct or fund research that utilised cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses, and that Senomyx did not use HEK cells for research on behalf of PepsiCo (here).

PepsiCo confirmed to Reuters that this was still the case.

“At one time PepsiCo did have a relationship with Senomyx exploring the development of new sweeteners and flavor enhancers,” a PepsiCo spokesperson said, but “PepsiCo’s commercial relationship with Senomyx has ended and we do not use any Senomyx ingredients in our products.”

The spokesperson added: “As always, PepsiCo absolutely does not conduct or fund research that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses.”

Reuters Fact Check previously debunked claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain “aborted fetal tissue” here and here .

VERDICT

False. PepsiCo told Reuters that the company does not use any Senomyx ingredients in its products and does not fund or conduct research using cells derived from human embryos or fetuses.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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