As longtime readers know, I am not a fan of Komen for the Cure for numerous reasons, including their ties to corporations that produce products linked to cancer and drugmakers who profit mightily from ‘curing’ cancer. I have also been deeply disturbed by their focus on awareness and cure rather than looking for the cause. Now, as pro-choice advocates express shock at Komen’s move to cut their funding to Planned Parenthood breast health programs, it is time to draw the line and tell Komen that we will not accept the cause branding of women’s lives and health by an organization that puts the interests of the right-wing anti-choice lobby, the Catholic Church and corporations ahead of those it purports to help.
While this story has taken many by surprise, the reality is that Komen has a long history of ties to corporations and the political right. I have written about Komen numerous times. In Seeing Red About Thinking Pink, I reported that,
…companies such as General Electric and DuPont, which manufacture mammography equipment, and make generous donations to organizations such as Komen and ACS, also make products that have been linked to cancer. DuPont’s Teflon coating–which is used on many products, including non-stick cookware–is made with perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical linked to cancer by the Environmental Protection Agency. General Electric is a builder of nuclear power plants that produce radiation, a known carcinogen. Both DuPont and GE have been sued for injuries and illnesses caused by the deliberate release of radiation at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation…
…AstraZeneca, maker of the estrogen-blocking drug Tamoxifen, is the primary corporate sponsor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Like other pharmaceutical companies, the company supports the American Cancer Society and the Komen Foundation. The financial interest of such companies clearly lies more in finding a drug “cure” than in addressing the environmental causes of the disease or promoting the benefits of lifestyle choices. Exercise, for example, has in numerous studies been shown to lower hormone levels and thus reduce the chance of getting or dying from breast cancer by as much as 60 percent.
and in 2005, in Does Breast Cancer Awareness Save Lives I pointed out that,
Yet organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation routinely fail to address these issues. As it turns out, both groups have connections with numerous corporations in the chemical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, many of which have an enormous financial stake in breast cancer. Good intentions aside, it is far more profitable for these companies to detect and treat breast cancer than to prevent it, leading to an enormous conflict of interest between their corporate well being and their charitable public persona.
The primary corporate sponsor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is AstraZeneca, which makes the popular cancer drug Tamoxifen. Interestingly, Tamoxifen can also cause cancer and until recently, AstraZeneca also made a variety of other cancer-causing chemicals. Apparently the company has a thing about color marketing. Not only do they encourage you to think pink, they are also the maker of a frequent sponsor of the nightly network news, the little purple pill a.k.a. Nexium. Which begs the question of how corporate sponsorship of the news might impact how cancer ‘cures’ and causes are reported by the networks.
AstraZeneca is not the only company playing both sides of the cause/cure game. Dupont makes numerous chemicals that have been linked to cancer (including Teflon) as well as much of the film used in mammography. And General Electric makes nuclear power plants that produce ionizing radiation, a known cause of cancer as well as mammography equipment (which also perversely produces cancer-causing ionizing radiation). GE also owns NBC.
What these corporations understand is that supporting breast cancer awareness and funding is a great public relations gambit. As Barbara Brenner of Breast Cancer Action points out, “If you slap a pink ribbon on a product, people will buy it.” But where does the money raised by the sale of all these products go? Some companies clearly state what portion of the proceeds are donated, but many just say something along the lines of, ‘a generous portion of the proceeds will be donated to finding a cure for cancer’. The definition of ‘generous’ can vary widely and all too often there is no definitive accounting of how much was raised and who benefited from the proceeds. (2)
And what of organizations like the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which sponsors the annual Race for the Cure? According to the Toxic Links Coalition, the race focuses on finding medical cures while ignoring environmental causes. In “Running From the Truth”, Mary Ann Swissler reports that the Foundation’s stock portfolio has included holdings in several large pharmaceutical companies as well as General Electric, one of the largest makers of mammographic material. (3) Their 2003-2004 Annual Report lists Ford (automobile exhaust has long been linked with cancer) and Johnson and Johnson (makers of numerous cancer drugs and diagnostic equipment) as Partners.
In 1998, Komen was the only national breast cancer group to back Tamoxifen as a preventative treatment for some women, which other advocacy groups objected to strongly. As it turns out, Tamoxifen’s maker, AstraZeneca is a strong backer of the Race for the Cure and in 2003 received the “Friend of the Fight” award from Komen.
The Komen Foundation is also notably silent on environmental issues. Interestingly, Occidental Petroleum, a major environmental polluter (think Love Canal) is a big Komen supporter. While Komen may have the best of intentions, as breast cancer activist Judy Brady points out, the problem is that they simply don’t see that “‘business as usual’ is why we have cancer”. (4)
ACS and Komen are both big supporters of annual mammography for women over the age of 40. Over and over, both organizations tout early detection as a lifesaver. They both also receive substantial funding from makers of mammography equipment such as GE and DuPont.
Komen’s cause branding has turned everything from paperclips to fried chicken emporiums pink, all too often at greater benefit to the pinkifying producers than to the cause. It is time once and for all to run, not for ‘the cure’ but for the exit and tell Komen that you don’t get to pick and choose which part of women’s health you support and it is unacceptable to cause brand our lives while kissing ass with those whose corporate and political agendas kill women. If you want to truly support women’s health, please consider making donations to organizations like Breast Cancer Action, SisterSong and Planned Parenthood.
You can let Komen know what you think of their move to defund Planned Parenthood here.
Additional worthy reading on this topic:
The Cancerous Politics and Ideology of the Susan G. Komen Foundation (more on political background to this story)
The Tragic, Craven Undoing of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Noble Mission (disproportionate impact of Komen’s decision on poor women)