Posted by: Christine Johnson | June 30, 2011

A Reluctant Boycott of … Heck, Everything, I Think! (UPDATED)

Brands Owned by PepsiCo

I’d read recently that some food companies were contracting with Senomyx, a company that uses HEK-293 to test flavors.  HEK-293 was derived from the stem cells of a healthy baby killed by abortion

The idea that a company would do such a thing was so repulsive that I decided I would boycott Pepsico, Nestle, and Kraft Foods – the three companies cited as having ties with Senomyx.  Not being one to want to wait for a snail mail response, I shot off an email this afternoon to each company.  Here’s what I wrote:

I was deeply disturbed to learn recently of your company’s partnering with Senomyx, a research company that uses human taste receptors to test flavors of various products [your company] makes.  These receptors are from HEK 293 – human embryonic kidney cells taken from an electively aborted baby to produce those receptors.  

This kind of research is an affront to human dignity and completely immoral to take part in.  As long as [your company] partners with Senomyx, our family will boycott all [your company] products and restaurants, which up until now has included quite a few of the items on our shopping list on a regular basis.

I urge you to cut ties with Senomyx and return to a more ethical way of having taste tests done.

Thank you very much, and I hope to hear soon that we can, once again, support [your company’s] products.

I wasn’t lying when I said they’re a big part of my shopping list.  Here is a link to three lists containing the brands under PepsiCo.  Here’s the list for Nestle.  Here’s Kraft’s product list.  To cut all three from our purchases would be a gargantuan effort.

As of writing this on Wednesday night, I’ve heard back from two of the three companies.  Let’s start with some good news from Nestle:

June 29, 2011

Dear Ms. *******,

Thank you for taking the time to contact Nestlé® regarding this issue. We welcome questions and comments from loyal consumers such as yourself and appreciate this opportunity to assist you.

In the past, Nestlé had a research collaboration with Senomyx to identify taste molecules. Senomyx is currently not one of our ingredient suppliers.

Your feedback is valuable to us, as it helps us to improve our products and services.

We appreciate your interest in our products and hope you will visit our website often for the latest information on our products and promotions.

Beverly Watson
Consumer Response Representative
Ref #:18808588

I couldn’t have been happier about this!  First, no one should be using human experimentation to research anything, so the fact that Nestle is not contracted with Senomyx is great news just for that!  On a personal note, that’s one fewer list I’ll need to take shopping with me during this boycott.

Now let’s turn to Pepsico, whose response is also exciting, albeit for different reasons:

Dear Christine,

Thank you for contacting us to share your sincere concerns. Please be assured that PepsiCo is committed to using only the highest ethical methods in all aspects of our research. This is something we take very seriously, and we hold ourselves and all of our research partners to the same high standards as the world’s leading research centers.

With respect to the flavor discovery research with Senomyx, we utilize techniques that have been in standard use for several decades by top universities, hospitals, U.S. government agencies, food and beverage companies, and essentially every pharmaceutical and biotech company in the world. Yet, there is some misinformation being circulated meant to distort what we’re doing and question our motives and those of other companies. This is unfortunate, and it is certainly not reflective of the work we are doing. We hope this information is helpful and reassuring.

Thank you again for reaching out to us and allowing us to clarify the situation.

Pepsi Consumer Relations


{\i DID YOU KNOW … *** All of Pepsi-Cola’s plastic soft-drink bottles contain an average of 10% recycled plastic, and the average aluminum can contains 40% to 50% recycled aluminum. ***}

This response from Pepsi is less than satisfactory. Let me tell you why.

First off, they’re using the same excuse my 12 year-old tries with my husband and I to get a cell phone (which she cannot have).  “Everyone else is doing it!”  Tell me when this is a decent excuse for doing something, especially something ethically and morally wrong.  We are talking about using an aborted baby for research, people!  No matter how many “top universities, hospitals, U.S. government agencies, food and beverage companies, and essentially every pharmaceutical and biotech compan[ies]” are using aborted babies to test things or research various topics, it is never right to do so.  Human experimentation is immoral, period.

Secondly, the good intentions of the company makes no difference.  The road to Hell is paved with such intentions.  As the Catechism puts it so well:

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39  (emaphasis added)

And finally, Pepsi cites “misinformation” about what’s going on and what their intentions are.  First, as I already stated, intentions don’t make a difference.  You cannot justify something intrinsically wrong (human experimentation) by a good outcome (yummier Gatorade!) or by the fact that lots of other people do the same thing (“universities, hospitals, etc.”).  Secondly, I do not see what “misinformation” they are talking about.  Pepsi cites that they use these means through Senomyx, justifies it by telling us that everyone does it and they have good intentions (remember how delicious those new Doritos flavors are!), and then tells us that stuff is being made up.  This response is, aside from being a bit juvenile in its approach, contradictory to itself.

Which is it, Pepsi?  Are you doing something that’s just fine or is there misinformation about whether or not you’re doing it at all?

If and when I hear back from Kraft, who is the biggest of these three, I’ll update this post with their letter as well.

In the meantime, if you’d like to write to Pepsi and Kraft, here are your contact pages online:


Kraft Foods

Please be respectful, and mention that you’ll be boycotting their brands (many though they are) until they sever ties with Senomyx.  And if you hear anything different, please let me know in the comments below!  I’d love to hear some good news!

Kraft's Brands: It's, Like, Everything!

UPDATE (Friday, July 1, 5:50 PM):

I just got a return email from Kraft, which is also pretty unsatisfactory.  They don’t deny working with Senomyx at all, and just ignore the real problem with their ties to the company.  Here’s their reply:

Thank You for Contacting Us!

Hi Christine,


Thank you for taking the time to contact Kraft Foods. We understand and appreciate your concerns regarding Kraft and its affiliation with Senomyx.

Our highest priority is the safety and quality of our products and the safety of our consumers. All of the flavors we use are approved and deemed safe for food use by regulatory agencies, including the FDA. Our collaboration with Senomyx is to discover novel ingredients that positively impact food flavors, similar to what already is being widely used in foods and beverages today.


Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Kim McMiller
Associate Director, Consumer Relations



I was deeply disturbed to learn recently of your company’s partnering with Senomyx, a research company that uses human taste receptors to test flavors of various products Kraft makes.

Have a question? Feel free to view our Frequently Asked Questions at or you can call us at 800-323-0768 Monday through Friday.

Kraft Foods Global
Consumer Relations
1 Kraft Court
Glenview, IL 60025

Concerned about privacy? Click here to see our Privacy Policy.

There’s the mail address, there’s the phone number. Let them know just how you feel about them using human experimentation to try new flavors.


  1. Christine, don’t forget that PepsiCo owns Yum-Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers. Don’t forget they bought out Quaker, and Snapple, Gatorade, & Tropicana as well. I have hated and boycotted PepsiCo for years but my reasons have to do more with the fact that my grandparents knew H. D. Sanders and what they have done to Kentucky Fried Chicken is apalling! Plus I grew up in a town where Pepsi was a big employer and they gave Pepsi to so many of the school functions, so if you went somewhere and asked for a Coke(gasp!), you were treated like you asked for a glass of radioactive waste. For years any time I go into a mom & pop type local restaurant and they are serving Pepsi, I always take them aside and ask them if they know they are supporting their competition. When we go back to the restaurant they have switched over to Coke products. 😉

  2. Christine,

    You carefully read Pepsico’s letter, and you noticed that while they sound comforting and reassuring, they neither say that the accusations are wrong, nor that they will stop.

    Nestle also wrote you a letter that sounds comforting and assuring, it may sound like they are admitting to an ethical lapse in the past, but assure you they no longer do this.

    However, Nestle does not actually admit that what they did in the past was wrong, nor do they say they no longer do it. They do say that “Senomyx is currently not one of our ingredient suppliers.” [Right. It is good to know that stem cells from an aborted child’s kidney are not going to show up in my Butterfingers(R) but no one ever said that any of their ingredients ever came from Senomyx.] However, the charge is that Senomyx used an aborted child’s kidney stem cells to find the best/cheapest flavor molecules for Nestle’s products. Even if they are no longer doing this, they are still using that information. And they don’t say that they are no longer getting information that way, just that they did do it in the past. They say nothing about what they are doing now, or will do in the future.

    Nestle and Pepsi don’t think there is anything wrong with what they are doing. Since you do, they think you must “misunderstand.” You must think that they are getting ingredients from Senomyx which come from aborted babies, when all they get from Senomyx is information on what ingredients they can use to give their products irresistible flavors. This information comes from the still living cells of an aborted baby. They don’t see why this should give anyone problems. Since you didn’t abort the baby and they didn’t abort the baby, why should we care how Senomyx got the information?

    Pepsi’s excuse “everybody is doing it” is transparent, and they probably know it. What they want to suggest is that a boycott is useless, because you can’t be sure their competitor, from whom you buy instead, isn’t doing it too.


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