Breast Cancer, rBGH and Yoplait: Put a Lid on It

September 25, 2008

Our Bodies Our Blog has invited the folks at Breast Cancer Action to write monthly guest posts on breast cancer and related issues.

by Pauli Ojea

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is nearly here. You can probably tell by all of the pink ribbon products you’re starting to see as October draws near. Lipstick, blenders, candy, cars — even toilet paper is being sold in the name of breast cancer awareness.

One pinked-out product you’ve probably noticed is Yoplait yogurt. Yoplait makes a 10-cent donation to a breast cancer organization for every pink lid consumers mail back to the company. Let’s put that in real terms: If you ate three yogurts a day for the four-month duration of the campaign (and sent in all your lids), your donation would equal $36. That’s a lot of yogurt — and not all that much money.

But what’s more troubling is what’s underneath the lid — the yogurt itself might not be that good for your health.

Yoplait yogurt is made with milk from cows that have been injected with a synthetic hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone (referred to as rBGH or rBST). There are a number of health concerns surrounding the use of rBGH, and breast cancer is one of them.

Here’s a very simple explanation of the science: When rBGH is injected into a cow, that cow’s milk will contain higher amounts of another powerful hormone called insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is natural and necessary, but too much of it may cause health problems. Studies have shown that elevated levels of IGF-1 in humans may increase the risk of breast cancer. More research is needed to better understand whether the elevated levels of IGF-1 in milk make their way into our bloodstream.

Although it hasn’t yet been proven that the use of rBGH will definitively lead to breast cancer, the current evidence is cause for concern — and for action.

Corporations like Wal-Mart and Starbucks do not use milk from rBGH-treated cows in their store brand products. If these companies can do it, Yoplait can too.

When a company puts a pink ribbon on its product’s package, that company is sending the message that it cares about women’s health. And if a company cares about women’s health, shouldn’t it be doing all it can to make sure that its products are not inadvertently contributing to the high number of breast cancer cases? We at Breast Cancer Action sure think so.

Every year we sponsor the annual Think Before You Pink campaign — which demands transparency and accountability on the part of companies that align themselves with breast cancer and urges companies to do all they can to ensure their products don’t contribute to the high rates of the disease. We use the term “pinkwashing” to describe companies — like Yoplait — that participate in breast cancer fundraising or “awareness” campaigns but manufacture products that may be linked to the disease.

This October, we’re asking General Mills — the maker of Yoplait — to do the right thing for women’s health: We’re urging them to go rBGH-free. You can help by sending an e-mail to General Mills telling them to put a lid on rBGH. After all, corporate conscience belongs in a company’s products, not just its marketing.

Pauli Ojea is the community organizer at Breast Cancer Action, where she mobilizes people to do something besides worry. Visit ThinkBeforeYouPink.org for more information and to take action.

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