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Are 'pink' products causing cancer?

By Zoe Kesselring
Published On: Sep 16 2011 03:54:08 PM CDT
Updated On: May 13 2010 02:16:54 AM CDT
woman with pink ribbon

istock/hidesy

A breast cancer organization is raising the question, if the purpose of a product coated in pink is to save lives and stop breast cancer, then why do so many products being sold under a pink label cause the very thing they are fighting against?

This process is called "pinkwashing," a term coined by Breast Cancer Action (BCA), a group devoted to the stopping of "pink" abuse.

BCA defines "pinkwashing" as sponsoring companies positioning themselves as leaders in the effort to eradicate breast cancer while engaging in practices that may contribute to rising rates of the disease.

Many "pinkwashed" products use the pink ribbon.

According to BCA, the idea of the pink ribbon began with Charlotte Haley in the early 1990s. Breast cancer had a major effect on Haley's life when her grandmother, sister and daughter were all diagnosed with the disease.

Haley was outraged by the lack of funding cancer research and prevention received and was determined to make changes. She created cards with a peach loop of ribbon attached. According to BCA, the back of the card read, "The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon."

When the editor of Self magazine, Alexandra Penney, caught wind of this movement, she called Haley and wanted to put the ribbons in her magazine, according to BCA.

The organization said Haley turned down Self in favor of a grass roots movement and in fear of becoming too commercial.

Penney was stuck on the idea of the ribbon and after consulting with her lawyers she, along with Estée Lauder's senior corporate vice president Evelyn Lauder, launched the pink ribbon campaign for the month of October.

Estée Lauder was a leader in the pink movement, distributing 1.5 million ribbons from their make-up counters in the fall of 1992, according to BCA. According to the Estée Lauder website, the company has donated millions of dollars to breast cancer research, and in 2009 the company donated $500,000 through the sale of their pink items.

Despite its contributions, according to pinkribbon.org, Estée Lauder has refused to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, which ensures their cosmetic products contain no chemical proven or strongly suspected of contributing to breast cancer. Pinkribbon.org said that Estée Lauder cosmetics still contain parabens, a class of chemical that has been linked to breast cancer.

Organizations like BCA have made it their mission to fight these instances of "pinkwashing."

"We're a little organization with a lot of power," said Breast Cancer Action?s executive director Barbara Brenner.

In 2008, Think Before You Pink, a campaign launched by BCA, launched the ?Yoplait Put a Lid on It? crusade against General Mills and Yoplait for using ingredients that contain the growth hormone rBGH.

General Mills and Yoplait have donated $18 million over nine years to breast cancer foundations, according to Yoplait. However, according to recent studies, rBGH -- which is given to cows that are used to make dairy products -- may cause breast, colon and prostate cancer.

Yoplait was "flooded with e-mails" from members of BCA and other likeminded people, said Brenner. And by 2009, General Mills was rBGH free, followed two weeks later by Dannon.

When both Yoplait and Dannon dropped the use of rBGH, two-thirds of America's dairy products became rBGH-free, Brenner said.

BCA's most recent cause is KFC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure's "Buckets for the Cure." Brenner called the campaign "infuriating at every level."

Brenner said that Susan G. Komen makes a point of supporting low-income women, yet KFC exploits these same families by strategically placing their restaurants in low-income areas and contributing to their poor health.

Brenner believes that steps can be taken to reduce the causes of breast cancer and to cure the disease, however, she feels that because so much focus is on awareness, little is changing.

For Brenner, it comes down to this, "If shopping could cure cancer, cancer would have been cured long ago."