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RH Reality Check

KFC's Pink Buckets for Breast Cancer: More Harm than Good?

Amie Newman

Jaz does a great job today of examining the practice of companies "pink-ifying" the products Americans purchase, from yogurt to alcohol, in order to raise awareness about breast cancer. On one hand, you might say it's a positive development - these busineses contribute financially to breast cancer research as most of them donate a portion of their proceeds to research during October (Breast Cancer Awarness Month) each year. One could argue that these companies are also raising awareness about the prevalence of breast cancer. But, as Jaz notes, these efforts may fall into the "pseudo-dogooding" category if, in fact, many of these products contain cancer-causing agents themselves.

If a connection has been found between the consumption of alcohol and breast cancer, why would we support certain alcohol companies' efforts to dress up their bottles in pink in order to "raise awarness" about breast cancer? In fact, Angela Wall of Breast Cancer Action says that instead of these companies donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to breast cancer research, let's encourage them to put that money towards removing the potential cancer-causing agents and improving the overall healthiness of their food.

And so it is with Kentucky Fried Chicken - oh, sorry - "KFC." You've seen those "Pink Buckets for the Cure" commercials? It seems so odd.  A quick montage of everyday looking people holding their pink buckets stuffed with fried chicken telling us why they're eating this here fried chicken wing or thigh for this family member or that friend who's been diagnosed with - or died from - breast cancer.  Sometimes, though, KFC will just run their everyday commercials for "breadless" sandwiches: meat, meat and cheese stuffed between...meat. I mean, how much less healthy can you get?! Seriously? Maybe you should just forego the food and siphon out some gasoline from your gas tank. And I grew up on this stuff. I've been a vegetarian for years but every once in awhile it's all I can do not to drive through that KFC window and order up a delicious bucket of I-don't-care-what-it-is-as-long-as-its-fried. 

That said, we cannot deny that this food is not the food you want to eat regularly if you wish to maintain a modicum of health. KFC knows this. They aren't pushing bucket-loads of fried chicken and "sandwiches" of bacon, fried chicken and cheese hold-the-bread without the understanding that this food is bad for us. It's not fine in small quantities. It's potentially cancer-causing-bad. According to's most recent newsletter,

In 2000, Swedish scientists discovered this chemical in such foods as potato chips and french fries. The US Food and Drug Administration estimates the acrylamide content in KFC french fries at 117-313 parts per billion, a very high amount.

Acrylamide is classified as a "probable human carcinogen." In rat studies, it increased the incidence of breast cancer, as well as thyroid tumors and scrotal mesothelioma. In humans, there is an increased risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, renal cell cancers, and mouth cancers. In 2009 a Dutch study showed a positive association between dietary acrylamide intake and breast cancer. The highest consumption of acrylamide correlated with a 43% increase in breast cancer in women with estrogen or progesterone positive cancers.

When KFC runs these commercials featuring pink-buckets, they are using breast cancer awareness as a tool to brand themselves as company that cares about consumers' health and well-being. And although these commercials are run in partnership with Susan G. Komen's Buckets for the Cure campaign, it can't be about women's health, really. As Barbara Brenner of Breast Cancer Action says it's "...all in service to KFC's bottom-line." That wouldn't be so bad if their foods weren't potentially contributing to a more carcinogenic environment or to other health issues like heart disease and diabetes - but they may be.

Brenner also says that, "...KFC, like most fast food chains, is overwhelmingly present in poor and minority communities that tend to have higher breast cancer mortality rates."

I'd also note that I doubt the fuel used to transport the millions of chickens used every year to fill those pink buckets, and the exploitation of immigrant labor are not doing much for Americans' health and well-being either.

If KFC really wanted to do something to stop breast cancer, why not ditch the colonel's not-so-secret recipe which may in fact be contributing to breast cancer rates and is surely contributing to a range of other health issues and mix up a new batch of chemical-free fried chicken? Then they could donate the money for mobile mammogram units in lower income neighborhoods, or donate clean money directly to research. I doubt I'd forego being a vegetarian but I might buy a bucket for someone else if I thought the money was truly being used for good - and not to pink-wash a fast food company's oily reputation.

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Amie Newman is Managing Editor, RH Reality Check.

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