What Lurks Inside


PepsiCo Inc. has been trying to do its part to increase its market share versus its main competitor in Coca-Cola. Pepsi was formed in 1965 after the Pepsi-Cola Company and Frito-Lay, Inc. merged together, 73 years after the formation of the Coca-Cola Company. In its quest in becoming the largest soda provider in the world, it has been targeting the younger generation to create profits, and different types of ethical theories have been incorporated into their strategies. The two aspects of PepsiCo’s activities that I want to highlight in this blog involve their soda-making process. One is more commonly known, while the other may surprise some of you, but both are equally controversial or concerning. The first involves PepsiCo’s use of aborted embryonic and fetal cells in the process of creating artificial flavor enhancers. The second involves the dangerous use of high fructose corn syrup and other harmful chemicals that PepsiCo (and other soda companies) use rather than real sugar in their drinks.

When I was going through some research on PepsiCo, I had to take a second glance when I read that the company uses embryonic and fetal cells when testing artificial flavors. Now, before I go on, I have to say that these cells are never included in the final product; they are only part of the testing stage. As was evident, some people had problems with this, while others did not really care and were fine with the process. PepsiCo works with the biotech company Senomyx to do this testing, despite having many options available, but protests and boycotting became common once word of these actions came out. To push it even further, the Obama administration had given its support to PepsiCo in 2012 for the actions it had made regarding embryonic and fetal cells. So, whether you agree with PepsiCo’s decision to complete its testing this way or not, our ethical theories help clarify some of the decisions made by PepsiCo. I believe that the consequentialist line of thinking, where utilitarianism states that an ethical decision should maximize benefits to society and minimize harms, would back up PepsiCo’s decision to use these cells in the testing process. Although a small portion of citizens would complain about their decision, most users of Pepsi products would be able to maximize happiness by having Pepsi drinks that have flavors that have been tested so that they are the best they can be. However, with a deontological mindset, PepsiCo’s actions could be questioned. It is the company’s duty to be transparent with its stakeholders, and it was actually a separate third-party that broke this information to the public. Perhaps you are fine with PepsiCo using these cells, and maybe you are in disagreement with it; there certainly are some people who believe that principles need to be followed by PepsiCo that would not allow them to use these cells in testing, even if they believe it will help find a better taste in the end for customers.

The other aspect of PepsiCo’s actions includes its use of high fructose corn syrup and other harmful chemicals in creating its sodas. Now, I’m not naive; I know that the soda that soda companies produce is never going to be healthy, and that the majority of the population is not going to stop drinking soda right away. However, changes can still be made in this regard. When thinking about utilitarianism, it may seem okay to use the harmful chemicals because, in the short-term, it creates the largest amount of happiness for those who drink the soda. In the long-term, however, the harm is evident as the unhealthiness can reduce the happiness either through worse nutrition or health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and even cancer (which would be more common for those who drink diet soda products). This goes beyond just PepsiCo, as all soda companies have to deal with this issue. Although Pepsi has begun offering real sugar substitutes, I doubt that will ever surpass its usual, chemical-laden sodas. In regards to deontological theories, is it the company’s duty to create healthy products? I would argue no, but I would say that it is their duty to make it clear and easy to understand what goes into the company’s products and the true health issues that can result. We all know soda is bad for you, but companies such as PepsiCo go out of their way to have health organizations either confuse the public as to how harmful some chemical truly are, or to downplay those harms. Deontology is based on rules, principals, and obligations, and again, it may be up to the individual to decide what the exact rules, principals, and obligations are that PepsiCo should follow. I personally have tried to cut out soda entirely from my diet because of what goes in to it, and PepsiCo may lose more demand if others follow the same path.

Although these are certainly important issues, PepsiCo has actually been mentioned as one of the most ethical companies in the United States. A lot has gone into the company’s ethics policy, and PepsiCo has worked tirelessly to reach the point it is currently at. Utilitarianism and deontology both give us an inside look as to why Pepsi has made some of the decisions that it has made.

Image via http://www.livescience.com/51667-artificial-sweeteners-new-diet-pepsi-formula.html

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7 thoughts on “What Lurks Inside

  1. When you say they use these embryonic and fetal cells in testing, what exactly do they do with them? How do they help make the product better in any way?

    Also the use of high fructose corn syrup in Pepsi-Cola products is kind of ironic, because as we know, we are a Powerade school, and the second ingredient after water in Powerade is high fructose corn syrup. It is kind of ridiculous because the drink is counter acting itself as a hydrating/sustaining sports drink using that ingredient. Gatorade does not use high fructose corn syrup.

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    1. I don’t have a problem with what pepsi is doing. I think they are not wrong here because they are selling a product that people can make the choice not to buy if they don’t want to. Sure, they could try to make their products healthier in order to prevent some health issues in this country, but it isn’t their job to do that. With all the money and research they have, I think its feasible for them to do more research to find ways to strive to innovate and create a healthier product.

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      1. I definitely agree that PepsiCo doesn’t necessarily have the obligation to make its soda with less harmful chemicals, but I do think some of these companies should be required to do more to make it well-known of the dangers that are inside the foods and drinks we are consuming. Of course, one could argue that by now, we all know how bad soda is for you, and we as a society have just decided to go along with it anyway!

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    2. I’m not sure of all of the specifics Ben, but I believe that Senomyx, the biotech company that partners with PepsiCo (and other food companies like Kraft and Campbell’s), uses the cells in order to isolate taste receptors, which lets the company review different outputs depending on the inputs that it puts into the testing when ingredients interact with the receptors. The average person might not think there’s a big difference between Gatorade and Powerade, and I certainly didn’t know that Powerade uses high fructose corn syrup while Gatorade does not, but that could possibly change the demand for Powerade if more people actually knew the difference.

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  2. As you mentioned, I think this raises the question of whether or not it is unethical for Pepsi to make a product that is so unhealthy, when it doesn’t advertise itself as such. While yes, they are selling a product that people can make the choice to by or not to buy, even though Pepsi does not promote itself as a health conscious product, at the same time buyers are still unaware of just how unhealthy the product can be. I drink soda on occasion, and I had no idea that the company uses embryonic and fetal cells for its testing of artificial flavors. Of course, however, I am actively aware that soda of any kind isn’t good for me yet I drink it anyways. At the same time, I do agree that Pepsi has the money and the resources to create a healthier product, and, within the beverage/ food industry, it should be their ethical duty to do so,

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    1. Yeah, I do think the ethics on the unhealthiness side of things is more cut-and-dry, but there certainly could be more questions when it comes to the use of the embryonic and fetal cells. Because it seems to be a less common occurrence and not as well-known to the general public, it hasn’t received as big of an uproar as there could be, but there would be a pretty big divide in opinions if it ever did become common knowledge.

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  3. WHY do they need fetal cells to test flavors? I mean, are they fetal tongue cells? Just confused.

    Corn syrup is not really that different chemically from sugar, I think. The usual concern is the amount of ADDED sugar to any product. Also, the fact that corn syrup is the result of an unsustainable agricultural system of subsidies to grow corn as well as a chemical-fertilizer system of growing corn. That’s my understanding.

    This reflects a problem with consequenetialism. It is common to refer to prices or economic volume as an indication of benefit. But it is hard to say that $1 billion of soda sales produces as much benefit as $1bn of milk or of $1bn of vegetables. Can we “measure” our way out of this? Can we imagine a Pepsi that sells $1bn of food products that are BETTER health-wise and therefore worth more than the $1bn of sugar water sales.

    I love a good soda ever now and then (once-twice a week). It is the prevalence that is the problem. And how can we expect sugar-craving bipedal primates (us) to simply switch?

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