Texas lawmaker wants to make labeling 'fetal tissue food product' mandatory

The FDA says there's no such thing.

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Texas State Senator Bob Hall speaks from the podium as Texas House Representative from District 96 Bill Zedler stands behind him during a rally held by Texans for Vaccine Choice at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Thursday, March 28, 2019.

Texas State Senator Bob Hall speaks from the podium as Texas House Representative from District 96 Bill Zedler stands behind him during a rally held by Texans for Vaccine Choice at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Thursday, March 28, 2019.

Matthew Busch / Contributor

Texas State Sen. Bob Hall is taking anti-abortion measures even further by proposing a bill that would require labeling for food products that contain fetal tissue. What's causing people to scratch their heads, however, is that no such food exists.

"There are no conditions under which the FDA would consider human fetal tissue to be safe or legal for human consumption," a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official said via email.

Hall filed Senate Bill number 314 (SB 314) as an amendment to the Health and Safety Code that specifically targets foods that contain, are manufactured using, or were created through research using human fetal tissue.

An informational one-pager from Hall's office compares labeling "fetal tissue food products" to other food labels such as organic, kosher or vegan, in an attempt to allow "consumers the ability to purchase products that align with their preferences or religious requirements."

"Unfortunately, many Texans are unknowingly consuming products that either contain human fetal parts or were developed using human fetal parts," the one-pager states. "While some may not be bothered by this, there are many Texans with religious or moral beliefs that would oppose consumption or use of these products. They have the right to know what is in the products they are consuming."

It is unclear what group(s) of people would feel comfortable eating fetal tissue. When asked if Hall believes that fetal tissue is found in food, his office doubled down on the labeling aspect without examples: "If a food does not contain fetal tissue, there is no need to label it."

"Human fetus tissue" is "tissue, cells, or organs obtained from an aborted unborn child," according to the bill.

This definition is meant to include products developed through research using human fetal cells. Among the most widely known cell lines is HEK 293, a kidney line cell that has been at the center of controversy since it was first used in the 1970s. According to the one-pager, HEK-293's "flavor receptors are used to develop artificial flavor additives."


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This is referring to a reoccurring rumor that PepsiCo has aborted fetal cells in its drinks. The allegation dates to at least 2011 when the anti-abortion group Child of God for Life said it would boycott the company because it used aborted fetal cells to test products. 

A 2008 patent filed by biotechnology company Senomyx mentions the use of HEK-293 cells, but a 2011 CBS News report suggested that the patent was for a process to engineer the cells to work like taste-receptor cells. "This way, Senomyx can test millions of substances to see if they work as different types of taste enhancers without subjecting human volunteers to endless taste tests," the report states.

Whatever the use was for the patent, Firmenich, the company that acquired Senomyx, told Reuters that none of the company's products have ever contained any human cell or material.

PepsiCo went a step further with its statement to Reuters, saying that "PepsiCo absolutely does not conduct or fund research that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses.”

It is important to note that the bill defines "human fetal tissue" as from an "aborted unborn child." Fetuses used for research purposes are from induced abortions, yes, but also spontaneous abortions and stillbirths. The National Institutes of Health also requires signed permission from the woman who donated the fetal tissue. Hall's office has not confirmed what the bill means by "aborted unborn child" at the time of publication.

While human fetal tissue is not found in our food, the bill also addresses an area where it is commonly used: in medical research. 

Human fetal tissue is largely used by researchers to create vaccines. It is especially necessary when studying how certain diseases such as Zika can affect the fetus and in turn, the child. In order to learn how childhood cancers such as retinoblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma develop, researchers need access to fetal cells to determine how the cells change. "Without access to fetal cells, we cannot understand and effectively combat diseases that begin in utero," states an article by Science.org, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

When asked about the implications on scientific research if this bill passed, a statement from Hall's office reiterated once again that the intent is only to label the product. "A well-informed consumer can make whatever choice they decide on purchasing a product so long as they have all of the information in hand to make the choice."

The Texas Senate bill includes mandatory labeling for cosmetics that contain human fetal tissue. The one-pager specifically names NEOCUTIS as a company that "freely and proudly admits its use of human fetal cells."

No information could be found on the NEOCUTIS site that specifically names human fetal cells as a part of its makeup, but the brand is founded on the "basis of extensive wound healing research in Lausanne, Switzerland." That research did determine that human fetal cells, specifically the skin cells of aborted fetuses, could rapidly heal severe burns and other skin wounds. NEOCUTIS did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday. 

Hall is not the first state senator to file such a bill. Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortey introduced a similar bill in 2012, which the Oklahoma legislature did not pass. 

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