Thursday, February 14, 2013

PepsiCo Embryo Testing (2011)


Based off "PepsiCo Controversy over Testing Methods" by Maura McCusker
Summary by Zach Saia

In 2011, PepsiCo, a beverage and snack food company formed in 1965, the center of an ethical controversy.  PepsiCo had tested their products through the company Senomyx. It was discovered that Senomyx used HEK-239, which is the kidney cells of aborted human babies to test products for quality. The embryo cells were able to help test the salt and sugar levels in Pepsico products.Pro-life groups were offended by this as they believed that human embryos were considered a human life and therefore opposed the use of human embryos for testing purposes. PepsiCo had not just associated themselves with a company using controversial practices, and benefitted from those practices, but they also were not open to the public in how they tested their products. At the time, if one were to look at the Senomyx company website to search for KEK239, the human embryo, nothing would come up. When asked about their thoughts on the use of human embryos for research, Senomyx said that they did not have an opinion and that they only had the goal of finding the best way to test and improve products. (Bohon) 
The question of ethics was brought up when this was discovered. People thought about whether it was ethical to be using human embryo cells for testing of foods and beverages. There are four main ethical theories that can be used to evaluate this case, individualism, utilitarianism, the Kantian theory and the virtue theory. Based on the first two, individualism and utilitarianism, Pepsico acted ethically, while according to the Kantian and Virtue theories Pepsico acted unethically.

One ethical theory to test this controversy through is Individualism. Individualism is the theory of acting in ways that protects ones interest the greatest. How others are affected by these actions is not important according to individualism. McCusker is accurate in her analysis of PepsiCo under the individualism theory. She believes that PepsiCo benefited from these tests without regards to others; therefore they were acting ethically under individualism. This is a correct analysis. PepsiCo benefited from better products by performing these tests. That led to higher sales and larger revenues for the company. In 2010, Pepsico's revenues were 57,838 million dollars, while in 2009 it was only 43.232 million, that is a thirty-four percent increase. That shows that more people were purchasing Pepsico's products, most likely because they tasted better.  Pro-Life groups were offended by these actions, but PepsiCo did not need to care about their feelings under individualism. Since Pepsico was benefiting, and it is legal to use embryo cells for testing, they were acting ethically under individualism.
Utilitarianism is another ethical theory that this theory could be tested under. Under Utilitarianism, actions are graded on their ethicalness based upon how many people benefit from the actions. The main people to be considered are the stakeholders. In this case the stakeholder's are PepsiCo, Senomyx, the Pro-Life groups and the general consumer. Pepsico is a stakeholder as they are the company who is benefiting from the testing and selling of the product. As the testing company, Senomyx is a stakeholder as they get paid based on whether or not Pepsico uses their testing. The pro-life groups were a stakeholder as they were the ones who were offended by the testing practices. Finally the consumers are a stakeholder because they benefit from the quality of the products.  In McCusker’s opinion these actions are unethical because pro-life groups are offended and boycotted the products. She believes that these boycotts  forced PepsiCo to lose money due to reduced sales from those groups. This is not a proper analysis of this case under Utilitarianism. The goal for an Utilitarian is to benefit the most people. By PepsiCo using Senomyx to test their products they were able to produce a better product. This improved the happiness of more consumers who in turn purchased more PepsiCo products. Since more people were buying the products due to their higher quality than those that boycotted the products, Pepsico actually had thirty-four percent higher revenues from the testing. The increase of sales caused PepsiCo to have larger revenues, which allowed them to pay Senomyx for their services. The increase in demand also caused PepsiCo to produce more.  To meet the raised levels of production they needed to hire more factory workers which created jobs. The only people who were not happy from this situation were the pro-life groups.  Since the PepsiCo company and employees, Senomyx, and general consumers were larger than the pro-life groups, performing this testing was ethical under Utilitarianism.
The Kantianism ethical theory is based upon acting rationally and allowing for individuals to act rationally. McCusker wrote in her paper that PepsiCo acted unethically by not allowing people to have the proper information to act in a rational way. This is accurate. PepsiCo hid the fact that they were using the kidney cells from aborted babies to test their products. Those that were opposed to the use of embryos for testing would not approve of using these products. By hiding the crucial information of how they test their products, PepsiCo did not allow for pro-life groups to act rationally. The rationality of an embryo is damaged here as it does not get to be turned into a human, but instead is being used for testing. Based on these conditions, they acted unethically according to Kantianism. 
The Virtue theory of ethics is all based upon honesty. Those that are the most honest are the most ethical based upon this theory. McCusker writes in her paper that that PepsiCo violated virtue ethics by not disclosing the fact that they used the kidney cells of aborted babies to test their products and in the process acted unethically. This is an accurate assessment of PepsiCo’s ethics. PepsiCo did not perform the necessary steps to display to the customers how they tested their products. By hiding this information, they were being dishonest and acted unethically. PepsiCo was not the only party that was unethical though. Senomyx also violated virtue ethics. When asked where they stood on the embryo testing debate, they said that they did not have a side. They took actions to hide their testing practices. By not disclosing their information Pepscio was not being honest and therefore they acted unethically according to the Virtue ethics theory.

tHE                       These facts and analysis are based upon a research paper written by Maura McCusker, "PepsiCo Controversy over Testing Methods" (2011).

Bohon, Dave. "Pepsi Getting Heat for Use of Aborted Fetal Cells in Flavor
Research." Pepsi Getting Heat for Use of Aborted Fetal Cells in Flavor Research. New American, 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

"PepsiCo Performance | PepsiCo.com." RSS. PepsiCo, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. 


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