- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2012

A pro-life group called off its yearlong boycott of Pepsi products Monday after the soft-drink giant provided assurances it would no longer use an aborted fetal-cell line to develop flavor enhancers.

Children of God for Life revealed last year that PepsiCo had contracted with Senomyx Inc., a San Diego biotech company that listed HEK-293, a “human embryo kidney” cell line produced from an aborted fetus in the 1970s, in more than 70 patents related to flavor enhancers.

“We are absolutely thrilled with PepsiCo’s decision,” Debi Vinnedge, executive director of Children of God for Life, said on the group’s website. “They have listened to their customers and have made both a wise and profound statement of corporate integrity that deserves the utmost respect, admiration and support of the public.”

In a letter to the group, Paul Boykas, PepsiCo vice president for global public policy, explained the company does no research that uses embryos or fetal cells and that Senomyx will not use the HEK line for Pepsi products.

“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,” Mr. Boykas said.

Children of God for Life started its boycott effort, which had grown to include more than 30 pro-life organizations worldwide, last May and had engaged in a long back-and-forth with PepsiCo, during which the corporation denied using embryo or fetal tissue in various ways that pro-lifers dismissed as lawyerly spin.

But Mrs. Vinnedge told The Washington Times on Monday that the latest letter seemed evasion-proof.

“When they said they would not use HEK cell lines in their most recent letter - well, that is the hallmark for Senomyx research. So that was majorly different than what they had said in the past,” she explained.

Mrs. Vinnedge also cited a telephone conversation with Mr. Boykas, in which she said the Pepsi executive told her that “PepsiCo had internal discussions beginning last November,” when a shareholder resolution was filed by a concerned stockholder.

“Mr. Boykas acknowledged that their discussions forced them to examine their own corporate policy that had been in place for years but ‘may not have been fully understood’ by everyone,” Mrs. Vinnedge said.

The Responsible Research Statement at the PepsiCo website says the company “does not conduct or fund research - including research funded by PepsiCo but performed by third parties - that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses.”

PepsiCo did not immediately respond to an email from The Washington Times on whether it had recently changed its relationship with Senomyx or altered the wording or the interpretation of its Responsible Research Statement.

• Victor Morton can be reached at vmorton@washingtontimes.com.

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