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McDonald's Pledges to Eliminate Deforestation From Its Entire Supply Chain
In the face of declining sales, McDonald's has been making a number of moves to bolster its market share—and its reputation. Over the last few months, the world's most profitable fast food chain announced that it will stop selling chicken raised with antibiotics, raise its U.S. employees' salaries by at least $1 an hour, and bring back "third pounders" to compete head-to-head with its premium burger rivals.
But the company saved what could amount to be its most important announcement for today. It pledged to only buy food and raw materials from around the world that don't contribute to deforestation, a significant contributor to global warming. Given McDonald's reach, that's a potential game-changer.
Two other top fast food chains—Dunkin' Brands, parent of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, and Yum! Brands, owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell—have made commitments to stop buying palm oil linked to deforestation. That's a big deal. Palm oil, which is used in a wide range of baked goods, packaged foods and personal care products, is the world's most popular vegetable oil, mainly because it's cheap, naturally saturated, and free of trans fat. But oil palm trees only grow in the tropics, where unscrupulous growers have been leveling forests for oil palm plantations, releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. In Southeast Asia, where 85 percent of the plantations are located, those forests provide critical habitat for elephants, orangutans, rhinoceros and tigers.
McDonald's commitment could be an even bigger deal. The company pledged to eliminate deforestation from its entire global supply chain. Specifically, the company singled out beef, coffee, fiber-based packaging, palm oil and poultry. Like palm oil, cattle production is a major driver of deforestation.
The company is expected to announce a timetable for its product procurement later this year, but there is room for skepticism given it has made similar promises before. For some time, its website has stated that its goal is for 100 percent of its palm oil to be "verified as supporting sustainable production by 2020," for example, but its plans to meet that goal were inadequate.
"As that old Russian proverb goes, 'Trust but verify,'" said Lael Goodman, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). "If McDonald's wants its golden arches to become a symbol of environmental sustainability, it needs to become a lot more ambitious and provide details on how it is going to fulfill its pledge."
McDonald's announcement comes less than a month after UCS released a report, co-authored by Goodman, analyzing top international companies' palm oil commitments. It was a follow-up to the organization's March 2014 scorecard rating the 10 largest companies in the packaged food, personal care and fast food sectors on their plans to use deforestation-free palm oil that is traceably and transparently sourced. At the time, the packaged food companies had the strongest standards. Fast food companies had the weakest.
The new report tracked the 30 companies' progress over the last year and added a fourth category, the house brands sold by the 10 largest supermarket, pharmacy and discount store chains. Only eight of the 40 companies surveyed this year have adopted palm oil commitments that fully protect forests and peatlands, swampy areas that store even more carbon. Those companies are ConAgra, Danone, Kellogg's, Nestlé and PepsiCo from the packaged food sector, and Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel and Procter & Gamble from the personal care sector.
Despite the Yum! Brands and McDonald's announcements, which they made after the UCS report was published, fast food chains are still lagging far behind. And Yum! Brands only pledged to buy deforestation-free palm oil for oil it uses for frying. That leaves out the oil in its sauces and biscuits and other baked goods, which the chain buys from other suppliers.
None of these three fast food Goliaths—Dunkin' Brands, Yum! Brands or McDonald's—would have made deforestation commitments without public pressure. Over the last year, hundreds of thousands of people petitioned them to buy only deforestation-free palm oil. But that still leaves seven other fast food chains in UCS's survey without a responsible palm oil procurement policy. It's time to step up pressure on Burger King, CKE Restaurants (owner of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's), Domino's Pizza, Dairy Queen, Starbucks, Subway and Wendy's. To send them a message, click here.
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A central player in the fight against the novel coronavirus is our immune system. It protects us against the invader and can even be helpful for its therapy. But sometimes it can turn against us.
How does our immune system react to the coronavirus?<p>The coronavirus is — like any other virus — not much more than a shell around genetic material and a few proteins. To replicate, it needs a host in the form of a living cell. Once infected, this cell does what the virus commands it to do: copy information, assemble it, release it.</p><p>But this does not go unnoticed. Within a few minutes, the body's immune defense system intervenes with its innate response: Granulocytes, scavenger cells and killer cells from the blood and lymphatic system stream in to fight the virus. They are supported by numerous plasma proteins that either act as messengers or help to destroy the virus.</p><p>For many viruses and bacteria, this initial activity of the immune system is already sufficient to fight an intruder. It often happens very quickly and efficiently. We often notice only small signs that the system is working: We have a cold, a fever. </p>
Is there an immunity? How long does it last?<p>The good news is that it is very likely there is an immunity. This is suggested by the proximity to other viruses, epidemiological data and animal experiments. Researchers <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.13.990226v1" target="_blank">infected four rhesus monkeys,</a> a species close to humans, with SARS-CoV-2. The monkeys showed symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, developed neutralizing antibodies and recovered after a few days. When the recovered animals were reinfected with the virus, they no longer developed any symptoms: They were immune. </p><p>The bad news: It is not (yet) known how long the immunity will last. It depends on whether a patient has successfully developed neutralizing antibodies. Achim Hörauf estimates that the immunity should last at least one year. Within this year, every new contact with the virus acts as a kind of booster vaccination, which in turn might prolong the immunity.</p><p>"The virus is so new that nobody has a reasonable immune response," says the immunologist. He believes that lifelong immunity is unlikely. This "privilege" is reserved for viruses that remain in the body for a long time and give our immune system a virtually permanent opportunity to get to know it. Since the coronavirus is an RNA (and not a DNA) virus, it cannot permanently settle in the body, says Hörauf.</p><p>The Heidelberg immunologist <a href="https://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/immunologie/immunologie" target="_blank">Stefan Meuer</a> predicts that the novel coronavirus will also mutate like all viruses. He assumes that this could be the case in 10 to 15 years: "At some point, the acquired immunity will no longer be of any use to us because then another coronavirus will return, against which the protection that has now been formed will not help us because the virus has changed in such a way that the antibodies are no longer responsible. And then no vaccination will help either."</p>
How can we take advantage of the antibody response of the immune system?<p>Researchers are already collecting plasma from people who have successfully survived an infection with SARS-CoV-2 and are using it to treat a limited number of patients suffering from COVID-19. The underlying principle: <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-drugs-can-antibodies-from-survivors-help/a-52806428" target="_blank">passive immunization.</a> The studies carried out to date have shown positive results, but they have usually been carried out on only a few people.</p><p>At best, passive immunization is used only when the patient's own immune system has already started to work against the virus, says Achim Hörauf: "The longer you can leave the patients alone with the infection before you protect them with passive immunization, the better." Only through active immunization can one be protected in the long term. At the same time, it is difficult to recognize the right point in time.</p><p>PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are currently used to find out whether a person is infected with the coronavirus. With the help of PCR, it is not possible to tell whether or not there is reproducible viral RNA; it is just a proof of whether the virus is still present, dead or alive. A PCR test cannot tell us whether our immune system has already intervened, i.e. whether we have had contact with the virus in the past, have formed antibodies and are now protected. Researchers are therefore working on tests that check our blood for the presence of antibodies. They are already in use in Singapore, for example, and are nearing completion in the USA. With the help of these tests, it would finally be possible to gain an overview <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/corona-confusion-how-to-make-sense-of-the-numbers-and-terminology/a-52825433" target="_blank">of the unclear case numbers.</a> In addition, people who have developed antibodies against the virus could be used at the forefront of health care, for example. An "immunity passport" is even under discussion.</p>
Is it possible to become infected and/or ill several times with the coronavirus?<p>"According to all we know, it is not possible with the same pathogen," says Achim Hörauf. It is possible to become infected with other coronaviruses or viruses from the SARS or MERS group if their spike proteins look different. "As far as the current epidemic is concerned, it can be assumed that people who have been through COVID-19 will not become ill from it for the time being and will not transmit the virus any further," he says.</p>
How long before you're no longer contagious?<p>A study <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2196-x" target="_blank">carried out on the first coronavirus patients in Germany</a> showed that no viruses that are capable of replication can be found from day eight after the onset of symptoms, even though PCR can still detect up to 100,000 gene copies per sample. This could change the current quarantine recommendations in the future.</p><p>According to the Robert Koch Institute, patients can currently be discharged from hospital if they show two negative PCR samples from the throat within 24 hours. If they have had a severe case of the disease, they should remain in domestic isolation for another two weeks. For each discharge, whether from hospital or home isolation, they should have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.</p>
Why do people react differently to the virus?<p>While some people get off with a mild cold, others are put on ventilators or even die of SARS-Cov-2. Especially people with <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-who-is-particularly-at-risk-and-why/a-52710881" target="_blank">pre-existing conditions</a> and older people seem to be worst-affected by the virus. Why? This is the hottest question at the moment.</p><p>It will still take a very, very long time to understand the mechanistic, biological basis for why some people are so much more severely affected than others, virologist Angela Rasmussen told <em>The Scientist</em>. "The virus is important, but the host response is at least as important, if not more important," her colleague Stanley Perlman told the magazine.</p><p>Stefan Meuer sees a fundamental survival principle of nature in the different equipment and activity of our immune systems: "If we were all the same, one and the same virus could wipe out the entire human species at once. Due to the genetic range, it is quite normal that some people die from a viral disease while others do not even notice it. "</p><p>Achim Hörauf also suspects immunological variants that could be genetically determined. Since interstitial pneumonia is observed with the coronavirus, the focus is probably on an overreaction of the immune system. However, it is also possible that each person affected may have been loaded with a different dose of the virus, which in turn leads to different outcomes. And finally, it makes a difference how robust the body and lungs are: Competitive athletes simply have more lung volume than long-time smokers. </p>
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