Oklahoma state senator Ralph Shortey is concerned about the possibility that some nefarious person or entity is using aborted human fetuses in food, and has introduced legislation to put a stop to this. Or, to keep it from starting, because he isn't exactly sure that anybody's really doing this, or how or where they'd be doing it if they were. Still, can't be too careful.
SB 1418 is, at least for the moment, just this one sentence:
No person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.
Fetuses in the ingredients?! Good God, what's that about? Is Soylent Green already people? Well, maybe not, or at least Shortey seemed to back off this first clause of his bill. "People are thinking that this has to do with fetuses being chopped up and put in our burritos," Shortey said, something no one had been thinking until he said it. "That's not the case," he went on. "It's beyond that." That's right — they are also in our chalupas.
Or not. If Shortey doesn't believe fetuses are actually being used as taco filling, then the first clause of his bill isn't necessary, but there it is. He would only talk about the second clause, on research and development, which really seems to be about stem cells. According to Shortey, there are companies out there "using embryonic stem cells to research and basically cause a chemical reaction to determine whether or not something tastes good or not." He said he read last year that a pro-life group was boycotting an unnamed company for this, and I guess if you've read someplace that somebody is upset about something that might be happening somewhere in the world, that's really all you need to know before writing a law banning what you believe that thing to be.
What's really going on? NPR noted that Shortey may have heard of a company that has a patent for what is "essentially an automated taste test," a patent that does mention a widely used stem-cell line originally cultured from human embryonic kidney cells. The company has denied it's using these cells, but let's assume it is. Based on the patent, it looks like the plan is to extract proteins from the cells and put them in some sort of testing array to see if the proteins react to various flavor compounds. It would not be putting any of the cells into food. Hence, no fetal burritos. And since the cell line has been around for 40 years, research using it does not seem to pose a threat to the fetuses of today. So that second clause only seems to make sense if you oppose any stem cell research of any kind under any circumstances. Which, coincidentally, Shortey does.
By the way, Taco Bell won a lawsuit earlier this year in which plaintiffs alleged its food contained less than 100% USDA-inspected premium beef. So it may comfort you to know that its burritos have been inspected fairly recently.