Breast Cancer & Toxics: Do labelling campaigns burden women?

Delighted to have this “Guest Post” from Osgoode colleague and IFLS member  Dayna N. Scott who is the Exec Dir of the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health.  You can find some of her research here, on SSRN.

Léa Pool’s documentary about the breast cancer industry, Pink Ribbons Inc (clip below), premiered at the Toronto International Film Fest last month. Cancer has touched all of us, and it has probably inspired in all of us an urge to “do something”, too, but this film challenges us to think a lot more about what kinds of things we should do if we really want to stop this disease.  Pool’s film was inspired by Samantha King’s book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy.

Breast Cancer Action Montreal (BCAM) is an organization that really is working towards preventing breast cancer.  They recently launched a campaign, in this spirit, asking for a recognizable symbol or label to be placed on all consumer products in Canada that contain carcinogens.   But doesn’t a labelling campaign (see Femme Toxic‘)  just shift the onus (and the risk!) onto individual consumers – mainly women – who will vary dramatically in their capacities to make use of that label?  We at the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health argue that this “precautionary consumption” is undeniably women’s work.

Read my exchange with Patricia Kearns of BCAM here.

logo for action group Femme ToxicDayna Scott.

0 thoughts on “Breast Cancer & Toxics: Do labelling campaigns burden women?”

  1. Great point that labeling has limited benefits and those benefits are not experienced equally by all consumers. There’s some more good material on these “choice architecture” problems in Sunstein and Thaler’s book “Nudge”.

    Providing consumer information eg with labels makes more sense when it’s important to allow consumers a choice about what to do with the information. Eg we require nutritional labels instead of banning junk food because we want to allow people to buy it, while “nudging” them away from doing so. (Sunstein and Thaler call this “libertarian paternalism.”)

    But there’s no need to protect consumers’ right to choose genuinely carcinogenic products. So Prof. Scott seems correct to say that taking them off the shelves makes more sense, assuming that they actually are demonstrably carcinogenic.

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