Think Before You Pink 2008 Takes On Pinkwashers

by Pauli Ojea

Put a Lid On ItThis October marks the seventh year of Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign. Each year the campaign demands transparency and accountability on the part of companies who align themselves with breast cancer. Think Before You Pink also urges these companies to do all they can to ensure that their products are not contributing to the high incidence of breast cancer.

BCA uses the term “pinkwashing” to describe companies that participate in breast cancer fundraising or “awareness” campaigns but manufacture products linked to the disease. With the growing concern over toxic exposures in everyday life, BCA believes that corporations, especially those claiming to care about breast cancer, have an obligation to make safer products.

Take a pink ribbon item like Yoplait yogurt, for example. Yoplait runs a breast cancer fundraising campaign called “Save Lids to Save Lives,” in which consumers send in yogurt lids for a donation of 10 cents per lid. (To make a contribution of $36, a person would need to eat three yogurts a day—and send the lids in—during the four months the campaign runs each year. That’s a lot of yogurt!)

What’s particularly troubling is that the yogurt itself might not be that good for our health—particularly where breast cancer is concerned. Yoplait yogurt is made with milk from cows treated with an artificial growth hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH (also referred to as rBST), which is injected into cows so they will produce more milk.

The FDA approved rBGH in 1993 on the basis of one study, despite opposition from many physicians, scientists, and consumer advocacy groups. Monsanto initially made rBGH but sold it to Eli Lilly in August 2008. Since 1993, it has been making its way into the nation’s dairy products without any labeling. Dairy companies who have pledged not to use rBGH put a label on their products indicating that they are rBGH-free (although companies’ right to label their products this way is currently coming under attack). The growth hormone is banned in the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Japan.

Scientific evidence suggests a possible link between breast cancer and rBGH, which elevates levels of IGF-1 in milk. IGF-1 is a naturally occurring hormone in both cows and humans that regulates cell growth, division, and differentiation. Elevated levels of IGF-1 in humans have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Although further research is needed to fully understand the link between rBGH, IGF-1, and breast cancer, many consumers and dairy producers are taking precaution by avoiding the hormone altogether. Large retailers like Wal- Mart, Kroger, and Publix no longer use milk produced with bovine growth hormones in their private-label brands. Chipotle and Starbucks have gone rBGH-free, and Kraft has plans to launch an rBGH-free line of cheese.

As a company that has made such a public commitment to breast cancer, General Mills (the parent company of Yoplait) should join these businesses and stop using milk from cows treated with rBGH.

Creating a product free of artificial hormones would help reduce everyone’s exposure to a suspect chemical. That could mean a future with less of this awful disease. And that is worth so much more than a 10-cent lid.

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Take Action: Tell General Mills, the makers of Yoplait, to go rBGH-free. Visit thinkbeforeyoupink.org to send an e-mail or send a handwritten letter to Ken Powell, CEO, General Mills, P.O. Box 9452, Minneapolis, MN 55440

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