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

By Christine Cupaiuolo — 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 for more information and to take action.

9 responses to “Breast Cancer, rBGH and Yoplait: Put a Lid on It”

  1. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. In the meantime, one could buy Canadian as rBGH is not used in Canada. It was voted down.

  2. I am so glad to see this issue get the spotlight treatment. I cringe whenever I see teflon-coated pink cookware and toxic cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup all decked with a pretty pink label.

  3. They don’t care. Why do I say that you ask?

    They have a form letter that myself and several friends have recieved:

    “Thank you for contacting General Mills concerning BST.

    BST (bovine somatotropin) is a hormone naturally found in cows. The synthetic version of this hormone (not to be confused with a steroid hormone) has been subjected to extensive testing. The Food & Drug Administration, American Medical Association, National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture along with a number of other science-based organizations have concluded that there are no food safety issues in conjunction with milk produced by BST-supplemented cows.

    Because BST is naturally found in all cows milk, there is no scientific way to test the milk to determine if the BST present is from synthetic sources or natural sources. The amount of BST present in milk will not be greater from a synthetic source than it would be occurring naturally.

    For more information about Bovine Somatotropin (BST) or Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) you may wish to visit the United States Department of Agriculture website at

    We hope you will continue to enjoy our products.


    General Mills Consumer Services”

  4. Corporate America makes me want to scream. Especially their insipid form letters. No you morons can you read? I said I was never buying your product again; therefore, I will not continue to enjoy your garbage.

  5. Elizabeth Dehart says General Mills does not care. They will care if enough consumers contact them to complain about use of rBGH. We have already seen that here in Portland, Oregon where a respectful postcard campaign has helped dairy consumers let local suppliers know we don’t want rBGH in the dairy products we purchase for ourselves and our families. The use of rBGH in addition to the pink ribbon on the Yoplait container is especially bad and must not go unaddressed. If this offends you, let them know! And insist on purchasing dairy products free of rBGH. The precautionary principle, more used in Europe, says we need to use least-toxic options and not take chances with our health. It’s up to us as grocery shoppers to shape what stores offer.

  6. Removing rBGH is laudable but it’s a red herring where cancer is concerned.

    There’s no such thing as hormone-free cow’s milk. Cow’s milk naturally has growth hormones because it’s a food specifically designed to help cells multiply quickly and get a small calf to grow to a large sturdy animal in a short amount of time. Cancer cells benefit from this effect just as surely as other cells.

    The solution is stop consuming food products with growth hormones in them. Cut out dairy altogether to avoid breast cancer and other cancers.

  7. As a nutritionist for dairy cattle with a good understanding of biology I have a unique perspective on this issue. Although it sounds scary, rBGH is safe. If you look at the science behind IGF-1, IGF-1 made by your own body proliferates cancer cells along with all other cells. Consuming IGF-1 does not change your body’s level of IGF-1. To reduce IGF-1 in your body your best bet is to reduce the amount of calories you eat. Furthermore, if you test milk for IGF-1 from individual farms it is impossible to determine which farm uses rBGH and which farm doesn’t because there are a whole host of factors which affect IGF-1 level in milk – rBGH use is insignificant. Admittedly, when activist groups spin facts about rBGH it sounds horrible. If you take time to read the scientific journal articles they reference they are nothing more than spin doctors not telling the whole truth. Working as a consultant to some farmers that use rBGH and some that don’t – I would say that the farmers that use rBGH tend to have healthier cattle and use less antibiotics for sick cows. This is because they are generally the better managers – rBGH use is insignificant.

    The clueless mob of public opinion can go on their witch hunt and criticize General Mills for not going rBGH free with their products, but for me I’m going to enjoy my pineapple upside-down cake, blackberry and boston cheesecake knowing that they are perfectly safe.

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