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E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I understand that fast-food giant YUM! Brands, owner of KFC, is under fire by Greenpeace and others for rainforest destruction. What’s the story?  -- Betsy Barnard, Wellesley, MA

YUM! Brands, which operates 38,000 fast food restaurants in 110 countries (including not only KFC but also Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, WingStreet, A&W and Long John Silver’s), has come under fire of late from Greenpeace and other rainforest advocacy groups for sourcing palm oil, paper and other goods from suppliers notorious for destroying tropical rainforests in Indonesia and elsewhere. While McDonald’s and Burger King have worked in recent years to cut their ties with palm oil and logging companies linked to rainforest destruction, YUM! continues to ignore calls to source their resources more responsibly.

Indonesia’s tropical rainforests are home to orangutans, tigers, elephants, clouded leopards and dozens of other endangered plants and animals. Environmentalists report that 40 percent of Indonesia’s rainforests have been logged over in the last half-century, mostly to clear the way for palm oil plantations. The cleared timber is sold at huge profits for paper and pulp, while the palm oil brings in continuous revenue for multinational corporations despite denuding lands once rich in biodiversity.


Tropical rainforests also sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in their growing woody biomass; chopping them down only accelerates the rate of global warming by allowing more CO2 to escape into the atmosphere where it contributes to the greenhouse effect. Despite a partial moratorium on rainforest destruction announced by the Indonesian government in May 2011, analysts believe that nearly half of the country’s remaining tropical rainforests will be cleared within two decades.

Over-exploitation of natural resources—and deforestation in particular—is a huge obstacle to Indonesia’s growth. According to the Rajawali Institute for Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, by eliminating its natural capital for negligible gains, Indonesia lost $150 billion in future revenues between 1990 and 2007, wiping out one-third of the country’s national savings in the process.

There are
“major economic risks for Southeast Asia’s agriculture and timber sectors if they don’t take prompt action to conserve their forests,” reports Glenn Hurowitz, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. “Global consumers are increasingly demanding deforestation-free products,” he says, adding that Nestle, McDonald’s, Unilever and others have pledged to obtain their palm oil from sources certified “sustainable” by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

YUM! Brands is not the only offender. Greenpeace has also targeted Mattel toys for supporting suppliers that contribute to Indonesian deforestation. And two Michigan girl scouts were shocked to find out the cookies they were selling contained palm oil obtained from deforested land in Indonesia. They spread the word to fellow girl scouts across the country, thousands of whom have stopped selling cookies as a result.

Concerned consumers should write the company a letter asking them to stop using products derived from deforested rainforest lands. Greenpeace makes it easy by hosting an online form letter that sympathizers can sign onto and the group will take care of delivering your message directly to YUM! executives.


CONTACTS: YUM! Brands, www.yum.com; Center for International Policy, www.ciponline.org; Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, www.rspo.org; Greenpeace Form Letter to YUM!, https://secure3.convio.net/gpeace/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=689.


The Medicare “Wellness” Farce

Jane M. Orient, M.D., http://www.aapsonline.org/

The real news about Medicare should be the Gang of 15, namely the IPAB or Independent Payment Advisory Board. It is charged with putting a lid on Medicare spending, with no judicial or congressional oversight. The only tool it is allowed to use is to not pay for services, or to pay far below cost. Guess what happens when you stop paying people, even doctors? They stop working, and thus stop ordering expensive medicines and tests.

But the government prefers to emphasize the AWV or annual wellness visit. You get a “free” visit to the doctor, or rather “health care provider,” and that’s somehow supposed to keep you well. At least it will keep sick people out of the doctor’s office, which will be jammed with people having AWVs, for which the doctor gets paid better.

Medicare payment for the first AWV is $161.05, and for a follow-up is $107.37, and there’s no deductible or copay.

Most of the “no touch” visit can be done by a nurse and other team members, such as a health educator. It involves determining your height, weight, and waistline circumference or body mass index (BMI). If you are overweight, you will be scolded and given evidence-based advice to lose weight. You will probably be given a government-approved low-fat diet, which has been shown not to work, and when it doesn’t, you will be called “non-adherent” (the new preferred term for “non-compliant”). You will be interrogated about smoking, told that it is bad for you, and counseled if you admit to doing it. You’ll likely be referred to an evidence-based smoking cessation program (which ObamaCare pays for with your tax dollars even if it doesn’t work) and probably given an alternate nicotine-delivery system, which will likely maintain your nicotine addiction so that you will keep paying tobacco taxes.

You’ll be screened for risk factors for depression and for mental health or cognitive problems. You’ll be checked for risk of falling down.

A list will be created of your medications and all your regular providers and suppliers.

If the government gets its way, all this information will be entered into an electronic database. This will make it convenient to determine the societal value of your medical treatment, just in case the IPAB Gang decides that resources need to be redistributed to those who are not obese or showing early signs of dementia.

If you have any health problems, they won’t be treated during this visit—it’s a “wellness” visit, remember?

The AWV won’t be mandatory, at least not yet, but your doctor might well insist on it—after all, he does get paid relatively well for it.

Would you spend your own money on this? For $160, I could make my own lists and calculate my own BMI. You just need to find an internet site by “googling” and plug in your height and weight. Perhaps I’d like to keep the results to myself!

Taxpayers of course have no choice about buying wellness visits (AWVs) for other people. But it’s supposed to be worth it by saving them money in the long run.

Measuring your waistline will not protect you from heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, or even from falling down. And age 65 is a little late to start your healthy living program. But this is about maximizing the health of the herd—er, I mean population. The culled information will help the IPAB Gang of 15 get the best bang for other people’s bucks.

Even in the short term, there will be savings—simply by keeping those troublesome sick people from clogging up medical facilities, with their demands for frequent return visits, prescriptions, medical equipment, and diagnostic tests. It is much better for society to keep healthy people healthy than to lavish resources on keeping sick people alive. Isn’t it?

 About the author/contributor:

Jane M. Orient, M.D., Executive Director of Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, has been in solo practice of general internal medicine since 1981 and is a clinical lecturer in medicine at the University Of Arizona College Of Medicine. She received her undergraduate degrees in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Arizona, and her M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She is the author of Sapira’s Art and Science of Bedside Diagnosis; the fourth edition has just been published by Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. She also authored YOUR Doctor Is Not In: Healthy Skepticism about National Health Care, published by Crown. She is the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a voice for patients’ and physicians’ independence since 1943. Complete curriculum vitae posted at www.drjaneorient.com. Additional information on health-related issues: www.aapsonline.org and www.takebackmedicine.com.

Dr. Orient’s position on Obama’s healthcare reform:  “The Obama plan will increase individual health insurance costs, and if the federal government puts price controls on the premiums, the companies will simply have to go out of business. The plan will deliver higher costs, more hassles, fewer choices, less innovation, and less patient care.”   Doctor Orient can be contacted for interviews and further information at:  (800) 635-1196 or jane@aapsonline.org.

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