(MintPress) – Starting this weekend, traditional Sunday National Football League (NFL) broadcasts will be awash in pink, as the league continues its campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer research in partnership with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Pink shoes. Pink wristbands. Pink gloves. The ubiquity will continue throughout the month of October, the official Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with other promotional items appearing on store shelves and everyday products. But the noble cause is often the topic of skeptics, who say the Susan G. Komen foundation is more inclined to care about its bottom line than it is for a breast cancer cure.
According to 2009-2010 filings, Komen generated revenues close to $400 million for the fiscal year and allocated only 20.9 percent of total revenues to breast cancer research, or “the cure,” as the organization says. Public health education and fundraising costs, including visibility of the pink ribbon and pink products during October, account for nearly 50 percent of the organizations expenses.
Therein lies the dilemma of Komen’s massive expansion as a charity juggernaut: Komen’s business partnerships and advertising campaigns take up more than twice of the groups expenses than its original mission of cancer research does.
Because of Komen’s immense influence within society since it was created in 1982, opponents to the group say it has monopolized cancer with the power of the dollar, allowing it to lobby for more money on its behalf. In 2010, National Institutes of Health donated $763 million to breast cancer research, more than double what it allocated to any other form of cancer. While the donations are encouraging to continuing breast cancer research, activists such as Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, say organizations such as Komen focus too much on marketing and not enough on its original missions.
“At one time, pink was the means,” Jaggar said. “Now, it’s almost become the end in itself. In its most simplistic forms, pink has become a distraction. You put a pink ribbon on it, people stop asking questions.”
Jaggar’s group has coined the term “pinkwashing” to describe groups such as Komen, which have had questionable undertaking and advertising campaigns in the past. One such example occurred in 2010 when Komen and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) partnered on a marketing campaign that included KFC using pink buckets for its chicken. The Buckets for the Cure program, as they called it, would see 50 cents donated to Komen for every bucket of chicken sold.
But the partnership raised eyebrows because KFC uses monosodium glutamate (MSG) in its fried chicken recipe, an ingredient that doctors contest is linked to obesity, cancer and neurological disorders. Yoni Freedhoff, contributor to health website Weighty Matters, called out Komen for putting the prospects of financial gain before combing through the impacts of their partnerships.
“So, in effect, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is helping to sell deep-fried fast food and, in so doing, help fuel unhealthy diet and obesity across America, an odd plan given that diet and obesity certainly impact on both the incidence and recurrence of breast cancer,” Freedhoff wrote.
Samantha King, a professor at Queens University in Ontario and author of the book Pink Ribbons Inc., said the KFC deal put Komen in a new league for its willingness to make money for its cause without a matter of principle.
“What’s next, pink cigarettes for the cure?” King asked. “I think this really speaks to the fact that they’ve lost sight of their mission. Their primary purpose appears to be to sell products.”
Appeasing the donors
With that, what started as one woman’s promise to her sister to find a cure for breast cancer has turned into a multi-million dollar mogul that is constantly under the microscope for its practices and business associations.
Komen receives ample amounts of donations from companies, such as Coca-Cola, General Mills and Georgia-Pacific. In 2011, Komen was criticized for laying waste to scientific claims that bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical compound often seen in plastics, can be a cancer-causing agent. Despite more than 100 scientific studies verifying the claim and global entities such as Canada and the European Union (EU) banning the substance, Komen insists that BPA is no threat to humans.
Looking deeper into their motivation, however, the funding Komen receives from some of the country’s largest companies is often tied to the plastics industry and users of BPA. It would be unwise for Komen to rustle the feathers of donors such as 3M, which is also a member of the American Chemistry Council and is heavily reliant on products that include BPA in their composition.
“Komen for the Cure is notorious for denying a link between any chemical exposure and breast cancer, fueling instead the myth that most cases of breast cancer are inherited,” wrote Mike Adams of NatureNews.
“In reality, less than ten percent of breast cancer cases have a hereditary link, while the more than 90 percent of other cases have a definitive environmental link – but Komen for the Cure apparently could not care less about the truth.”
Those cozy business partnerships got Komen in hot water when accusations of overselling mammograms surfaced in August, with two Dartmouth professors attesting that Komen overstated the benefits of mammography. The two also said Komen skewed the survival rate statistics in a manner that made self-examinations seem inferior to mammograms.
Komen’s proneness to urge mammograms is also business savvy, as NaturalNews reports that the charity owns stock in General Electric, one of the world’s largest producers of mammogram machines. Like a reoccurring theme with the group, the benefits it states with mammography also comes with a twist, as the margin of error with mammograms often results in over-diagnosing and harmful treatments for those who may not actually have breast cancer.
“The Komen advertisement is deceptive in another way: it ignores the harms of screening,” said the two Dartmouth professors, Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz, who are also directors of the school’s Center for Medicine. “Between 20 percent and 50 percent of women screened annually for a decade experience at least one false alarm requiring a biopsy. Most importantly, screening results in over-diagnosis. For every life saved by mammography, around two to 10 women are over-diagnosed. Women who are over-diagnosed cannot benefit from unnecessary chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. All they do experience is harm.”