Susan G. Komen’s short-lived decision to drop grants to Planned Parenthood was met with fury from the left wing, and its outrage was immediately reported by the liberal news media. But it wasn’t the first time Komen had been attacked from the left. As a private charity, Komen was within its rights to not renew grants for breast health care for Planned Parenthood, a group that doesn’t even perform mammograms, but that wasn’t how the media covered it. CNN blamed the decision on conservatives, while MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell claimed that “the politics of stopping Planned Parenthood has now put more women at risk of dying from breast cancer.”
It didn’t take long for that uproar on the left to prompt a reversal of Komen’s decision, and for Komen Vice President Karen Handel to resign from the breast cancer charity. The controversy also renewed criticism of Komen over a completely different issue: whether or not the common chemical BPA (formally known as bisphenol A), is a risk factor for breast cancer.
Komen funded a study through the Institute of Medicine on environmental risk factors for breast cancer. The institute spent two years studying the issue and reviewing the science, but concluded that there was “scant” evidence to recommend avoiding BPA. The report was released in December. Anti-chemical liberals responded by attacking Komen.
After the Planned Parenthood funding controversy, a Feb. 2 International Business Times article by Ryan Villarreal called into question Komen’s work and sources of funding. “That Komen receives millions of dollars in funding from various corporate sponsors is no secret,” Mr. Villarreal wrote. “[B]ut the controversy lies within the influence these companies might be having on some of the organization’s stances.”
He cited Komen’s position on BPA as evidence and said, “BPA-peddling corporations have deflected that responsibility [to prove chemicals safe] by donating to organizations like Komen.”
Mr. Villarreal’s one-sided anti-BPA article cited Dr. William Goodson, who claimed that evidence that “BPA poses a real threat to people” is “getting stronger,” and Julia Brody of the Silent Spring Institute (named after anti-chemical zealot Rachel Carson’s book). It did not include a representative from Komen or a single BPA defender.
Liberal blog Jezebel also criticized Komen about BPA in the wake of the Planned Parenthood uproar. On Feb. 1, Erin Gloria Ryan wrote that the group “has lost its way.” “For example, the organization has refused to acknowledge the link between the chemical BPA and cancer even in the face of piles of science establishing the link, presumably because several of their large donors just so happen to manufacture products that rely on BPA.”
According to the left, it couldn’t possibly be because the scientific evidence connecting BPA to cancer is “insufficient and contradictory,” like the Institute of Medicine’s study said.
After all, accepting that view would disrupt the mission of left-wing “environmental” groups that focus solely on convincing people that chemicals, including BPA, are causing cancer and other diseases, and are trying to get such chemicals regulated.
Government studies have failed to find proof that the chemical is dangerous to humans, but groups like the Breast Cancer Fund still warn consumers to drop canned foods altogether, claiming they “may come with a hidden cost: Most food cans are lined with toxic BPA.” Never mind that can liners with BPA in them have been protecting consumers from food spoilage for more than 30 years.
Just days before Thanksgiving, ABC and NBC aired stories about the “hidden danger” of BPA after the Harvard School of Public Health found that volunteers who consumed canned soup on a daily basis had huge increases of BPA in their urine samples. This was not rocket science: Eating more canned foods naturally resulted in higher amounts of ingested (and excreted) BPA. The Harvard study didn’t prove that the ingested BPA was actually harming the subjects of the experiment.
The news reports were full of hype, mostly from news anchors, but at least Dr. Robert Bazell on NBC noted, “Despite studies showing that BPA is harmful to animals, no government has concluded it is harmful to humans.”
But researchers and groups such as the Breast Cancer Fund continue to claim BPA is a threat. The fund does more than try to frighten the public away from canned goods, it also advocates for federal regulation. In fact, the group wants a federal ban on BPA despite a dearth of proof that BPA (at levels to which humans are exposed) causes harm to people.
Activist groups, including the Breast Cancer Fund, present ridiculous studies and complaints about BPA in national news reports, but dismiss scientific studies that come to different conclusions. That’s precisely why they went on the attack against Komen in 2011 after the charity funded an Institute of Medicine study of environmental risk factors for breast cancer and failed to blame BPA.
NBC’s Nancy Snyderman, who often advocates for regulation and has a history of hyping the threat of BPA, challenged the Institute of Medicine’s study, saying, “There’s going to be push-back on BPA and pesticides because a lot of people are going to say, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t tell me there’s not a cause because it just hasn’t been studied.’ “
The New York Times also spun the study into an attack on BPA, saying that “the report may come as a disappointment” for those “hoping for definitive safety information about the huge number of chemicals to which people are exposed.”
For years, national news coverage of BPA has echoed that of the left-wing groups that the broadcasters and newspapers consult. In just 2010 and 2011, the Business and Media Institute found that 97 percent of news reports about BPA alleged it is a dangerous and harmful chemical, despite statements by government officials that it is “harmless” and studies that have come to similar conclusions.
The Teeguarden et al. study in 2011 found that even when people consume very high levels of BPA, the amount of bioactive BPA found in the bloodstream is much lower than levels “causing effects in rodents exposed to BPA.” That study was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the work was duplicated by two other government labs but was ignored by the networks and major newspapers.
Science that calms public fears of BPA doesn’t seem to matter to the media. It is reviled by anti-chemical groups that won’t rest until they get rid of BPA. As the Komen battle proved, those groups will even mudsling against cancer charities that haven’t taken their side.
Julia A. Seymour is assistant editor for the Business and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.