Corporations Cashing in Big Time on Breast Cancer — 5 Shocking Hypocrisies_Featured_, Conscious Living Monday, October 29th, 2012
Some of the most visible companies slapping pink ribbons on their products also have the most to hide.
By now, many people know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s kind of hard to ignore all the pink ribbons splashed across storefront displays and stadiums. In recent years, corporations have started participating in annual pinkwashing campaigns, events and product placement tied to Breast Cancer Awareness Month and ostensibly raising awareness and money for the cure. But
This corporate pinkwashing hypocrisy happens every year. Back in 2008, watchdog group Breast Cancer Action took on Yoplait, whose ubiquitous pink foil lids raise money and awareness. But Yoplait yogurt (and other General Mills dairy products) contained recumbent Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), the synthetic version of bovine somatotropin (BST), which the European Union and Canada have banned citing possible human and animal health impacts. (Dannon later followed suit and also phased out the use of rBGH/rBST.) In 2010, Susan G. Komen for the Cure partnered with Kentucky Fried Chicken, whose chicken contains unsafe levels of carcinogens. Last year, it was discovered that the organization’s pink ribbon-branded Promise Me perfume contained hormone-disrupting chemicals like galaxolide. While many of these toxic products have since been pulled thanks to pressure from activist groups and public outcry, it doesn’t stop major conglomerates from trotting out the same ridiculous tricks every October.
This year is no different. For every well-intentioned campaign meant to raise awareness about the need for breast cancer research and funding, branded products still contain cancer-linked chemicals and toxins. Athletic teams look like they’ve bathed in Pepto Bismol, yet their high-profile athletes are still being accused and convicted of egregious sex crimes. Food manufacturing giants use packaging full of cancer-linked chemicals, yet partner with breast cancer organizations to funnel money toward research. Can you spot the biggest losers in this year’s depressing lineup of toxic pink products?
1. Taste the Hypocrisy
Since 2011, the Breast Cancer Fund has been actively campaigning Progresso to phase out the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in its soup cans. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, which has been linked to cancer, diabetes, obesity, and attention and developmental disorders. Even though soup giant Campbell began phasing out the chemical earlier this year, Progresso persists in using an epoxy resin containing BPA to line its cans. Despite this, Progresso rolled out pink ribbon can labels[BS1] for the month of October. Those lids you should save so parent company General Mills can donate to cancer research? They’re coated in cancer-linked chemicals.
Gretchen Lee Salter, policy manager at the Breast Cancer Fund, says being transparent about packaging is crucial for companies hoping to court critical consumers. Companies including Amy’s Kitchen and Trader Joe’s have pulled back the curtain to reveal the chemicals in their packaging, and natural foods company Eden Foods has gone the extra mile to explain to consumers why effective but chemical-free packaging can be a challenge to find.
To Salter, it’s shocking that Progresso has dug in its heels and stopped corresponding about BPA and chemical transparency. “Their statements are inadequate,” she said. In regard to other companies, she notes, “[It’s] utterly surprising how much [packaging transparency] has caught on. It speaks volumes and it should.”
2. Sugar-Coated Campaign
Progresso isn’t the only General Mills brand to give the side eye this month. A laundry list of other items, including sugary snacks, processed cereals and whipped yogurts that are also part of this year’s Save Lids to Save Lives campaign have one thing in common: sugar. Sugar alone doesn’t necessarily cause health problems, but researchers have started to point to definitive links between high sugar intake and obesity, diabetes, and even some types of cancer.
Health and science journalist Gary Taubes wrote about sugar for the New York Times Magazine in 2011. In “Is Sugar Toxic?” he explained, “In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.”
Bottom line: Better to be safe than sorry. A steady diet of processed, sugary foods hardly justifies any financial benefit that might come from mailing in a few pink lids for charity.
3. Skin-Deep Charity
Thirteen-year-old Talia Castellano recently made headlines when the young makeup blogger appeared as a guest on “The Ellen Degeneres Show.” Castellano has been battling two forms of cancer for the last several years and says, “I love and adore makeup, using it as my wig and having so much self-confidence to go out to the grocery store without a wig.” CoverGirl not only brought Castellano on the show and gave her $20,000, they even made her an honorary Cover Girl.
Castellano’s inspiring story is perfect PR for a company that isn’t exactly known for its non-toxic ingredients. In fact, many products made by Procter and Gamble, the skincare and cosmetics giant behind CoverGirl, Max Factor and Pantene brands, contain what is often known as the toxic trio: parabens, formaldehyde and phthalates. The Breast Cancer Fund recently persuaded Johnson & Johnson to phase out its use of carcinogens and toxins in its various lines of skincare and beauty products. Procter and Gamble, Estee Lauder and Unilever were all encouraged to follow suit.
Instead of responding to calls to remove carcinogens from its products, this month P&G partnered with the National Breast Cancer Foundation to raise money for early detection awareness campaigns. P&G will donate $1 to NBCF for every breast exam pledge that Facebook users create. Much like Castellano’s heartwarming story, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with awareness and prevention. But once again, the company leading the charge is one that peddles products full of cancer-linked toxins. Maybe this partnership would be a bit more credible if the money spent on early detection campaigns was instead used to find alternative non-toxic ingredients for Procter and Gamble’s widely available cosmetics.