Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

The ‘pinkwashing’ of chicken buckets and firearms

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America is becoming ‘pinkwashed.’ No, it’s not what happens when you accidentally wash a red shirt with your white laundry. It’s what happens when well-meaning messages — in this case, supporting breast cancer research — get clouded by commercialism.

The latest, and now most famous, case is KFC’s pink bucket. Earlier this month, the fast food giant announced that it would donate 50 cents of every bucket of fried (or grilled) chicken toward Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer charity. The campaign has already raised more than $2 million from both buckets and online donations, on the way toward a goal of $8.5 million, but it surely hasn’t been without ridicule. Many opponents point out how unhealthy eating and obesity have been linked to breast cancer and, of course, to fast food restaurants such as KFC. (Surely, the buzzed-about Double Down ‘sandwich’ hasn’t helped rid the company of its unhealthy image.)


And among those calling foul on KFC and Komen is Breast Cancer Action (BCA). The advocacy group, which has spent many years denouncing pinkwashing, says Buckets for the Cure “will do more to benefit KFC’s bottom line than it will to cure breast cancer.” And, there’s already quite a history of dubious pink product promotions. Last October, for example, Smith & Wesson released a 9mm pistol with pink gripping. (As the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2008, firearms account for 29.2% of violent female deaths.) Sparkletts water company, which has used the cancer-linked compound BPA in some of its plastic bottles, also recently decorated its trucks with a pink ribbon to raise awareness and, likely, good will. And, in another of its campaigns, BCA has accused pharma giant Eli Lilly of “milking cancer.” While marketing drugs like Evista, an osteoporosis medication also considered a breast cancer preventative, Lilly has also produced rBGH, a hormone that increases milk production among cattle. However, rBGH also increases bovine levels of IGF-1, a hormone which, among premenopausal women, can more than double the risk of breast cancer when at high concentrations. Thus, BCA claims, Lilly is perpetuating a cycle of cancer.

Whether you trust these companies’ intentions or not, and whether you believe the research claims or not, there’s no denying that Komen and KFC have cooked up some controversy about where to draw the line between charity and commercialism. Hopefully, we can all find ways to support good causes like breast cancer research, without expecting a bite of chicken.

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