No fetuses in food: Oklahoma lawmaker explains intent behind bill

He’s being lampooned on blogs, news sites, Twitter and Gawker.

But state Sen. Ralph Shortey, the Oklahoma lawmaker who introduced a bill banning the use of human fetuses in food, is surprised his legislative effort has gotten so much attention.

The Twitterverse was abuzz this week with tweets reading: "This just in: my husband Kevin went to high school with Ralph 'fetus food' Shortey." Another: "Too much aborted human fetus in YOUR food? Senator Ralph Shortey can help!"

The bill was among 70 measures an assistant filed for Shortey last Thursday, the deadline for introducing legislation. 

On Monday, after returning from tending to family matters and a weekend quail hunt, he was met with a phone that was ringing off the hook, and, in only a few days, a deluge of 400 emails flooding his inbox.

“I’ve gotten so much hate mail,” Shortey said Thursday in a phone interview from Texas. (The freshman senator said he was on his way to Austin with a youth group with which he volunteers.)

The Oklahoma City Republican explained that the bill was introduced after he did some research online and found reports of a 2010 boycott of Pepsi Co. by Children of God For Life, an anti-abortion group based in Florida.

The boycott backers claim that Pepsi Co. was contracting with Senomyx, a San Diego-based company, that allegedly was using human embryonic stem cells in the testing of artificial flavors.

Pepsi and Senomyx have denied those allegations, but Shortey was undeterred.

“Are fetuses being chopped up and put in our Doritos?” he asked. “No.”

But he said he believes these embryonic stem cells are being used in research by private companies.

“I want a serious conversation about this,” Shortey told the Los Angeles Times. “This wasn’t an open invitation for the country to chime in. This was an invitation to my colleagues to have this discussion.”

The bill -- a couple of paragraphs his assistant wrote up and he reviewed -- reads: "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."

Shortey said he intends to revise the bill, known as SB 1418, before pushing for the measure to be heard in committee.

Federal food safety officials have never heard of such a thing. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the agency has never gotten any reports of fetuses being used in food production.

Shortey, elected in 2010, has introduced a spate of controversial bills, including one that would deny Oklahoma citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the state. Another bill he wrote would have allowed police to confiscate the homes and cars of illegal immigrants. He also tried to advance a bill that would have required presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship before being allowed on Oklahoma's primary ballot.

None of Shortey's controversial bills have become law.

As news began circulating this week of his latest legislative priority, Twitter users and humor sites were rife with disbelief and amusement. "Way to keep the crazy title for OK," wrote one person.

But the lampooning doesn’t bother Shortey. “The first attack is to make that issue or person look ridiculous,” he said. “And I’ve got thick skin. I don’t care what people think about me.”

Asked if he believes everything he reads on the Internet, Shortey said: “Absolutely not. I don’t just look at something and say this must be true. But I’ve done some digging.”

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-- Ricardo Lopez

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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