Course: Food Production, Public Health, and the Environment

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Purpose of the Assignment

Research is a cornerstone of public health training.  But how are science and data communicated to the general public, advocates working on behalf of a public health issue, and policymakers in local, state and national levels? According to the APHA Media Advocacy Manual, “Advocacy is used to promote an issue in order to influence policy-makers and encourage social change. Advocacy in public health plays a role in educating the public, swaying public opinion or influencing policy-makers.”

In this final assignment, you will develop a public health advocacy piece in the form of either a newspaper op-ed or an official comment to a government agency. This will give you a chance to translate science to policy in order to promote a particular point of view about one of the many important issues presented in this course.

» Option 1: Newspaper Op-Ed


Newspapers remain an important source of information for many people.  Opinion pieces in newspapers offer an opportunity to reach hundreds, thousands or millions of potential readers, depending on the size of a newspaper’s audience. While letters may be published on any topic, those chosen most often for publication are linked in some way to current events. For Option 1, you will take one or more of the core concepts from the course (suggestions provided) and develop an op-ed to a newspaper of your choice. Some students in past years have submitted their letters and have had them accepted by the chosen newspaper, but this is not required.

Topic Selection

Your topic should be directly related to core concepts of this course.  You should choose a specific topic from among the topics listed below and frame your arguments in the context of the interconnections between “food production, public health and the environment”.  Note that you will submit your assignment in DropBox folders according to the topics below.  You may choose a different topic as long as it advocates a core concept of the course. If you have questions about your chosen topic, please discuss the topic with course faculty.

  • Community food systems or some aspect of your food environment based on your research for the forum sharing activity
  • Agriculture, sustainable agriculture and feeding the world’s growing population
  • Farm policy, including the farm bill, and the relationship to food systems and public health
  • Issues related to IFAP (industrial food animal production), including antibiotic resistance, environmental justice, or occupational health issues
  • Other topic related to the core concept of the course


Select the central thesis of your letter (main point) then choose your audience – public health professionals, the general public, residents of a particular community, elected officials, etc -- and the appropriate news outlet to reach that audience.  State the audience and the intended news outlet at the top of your assignment.

Your op-ed will open with your main point, followed by supporting arguments.  The piece should close with a reiteration of the main point and a specific call to action to your audience. 

Your piece should make the issue compelling to your audience and convince them to take action.  The tone you use depends on the issue you choose and the manner in which it is framed. Your central thesis and the arguments used to support it should relate directly to your audience. Originality and the ability to connect with the reader are very important criteria for editorial pieces.

Your assignment should demonstrate that you understand the complexity of the interactions among food systems, food production, ecosystems and public health, but you should NOT summarize the entire course.  Rather, you should select one or several closely related topics from the lectures, readings and other course material as the foundation of your argument and develop it/them as a specific call to action to your particular audience. 

Citations are necessary if you reference a journal article or specific data or source.  Though citations are more commonly used in letters published in scientific journals, you should include them for the purposes of this assignment.

Formatting & Submission Guidelines

  • Length: Between 700 and 1000 words [your newspaper guidelines may be different but stick to this range for the assignment].
  • Header: your name, date, media outlet/newspaper and audience
  • Footer: add a word count at the end of the assignment.  Note: Exceeding the word limit will result in a half-grade penalty.
  • Questions about the assignment should be posted in the discussion forums

Grading Criteria for the Op-Ed

Your grade will be based on:

  • Selection of target audience and media outlet based on your topic and supporting arguments
  • How well your topic reflects one or more core concept(s) of the course
  • How well your supporting arguments relate to your topic and main point
  • How well you demonstrate an understanding of the interactions among food systems, food production, ecosystems and public health as it relates to your topic.  (Note: Do NOT try to summarize the entire course!)
  • Your integration of KEY concepts chosen for your assignment with your own ideas and perspectives
  • BONUS: Catchy style, incorporation of additional research beyond course

» Options 2: Interface with a Government Agency

This option is geared towards students with substantial knowledge or expertise on a particular issue that happens to overlap with current or recent policy activity. 


Evidence-based advocacy can also take the shape of correspondence with government agencies responsible for regulatory decision-making.  Since many of these bodies are interested in (or required to consider) public comment, opportunities may arise to assert a position or make recommendations for regulatory agencies.  When letters to regulators are well-written and the presented arguments are evidence-based and defensible, these documents can aid agencies in their work and can also serve as a public record of a position issued by your organization. Typically those reading comment letters are technical experts (or quasi-experts) who are responsible for writing regulations, even though the letters may be addressed to agency leadership. For option 2, you will search current (or recent) postings for solicitations for comment on topics related to the course material and develop an evidence-based position and/or recommendation for that agency. You may officially submit your comment but this is not required.


A. Comment Solicitations to Government Agencies

Depending on the level of government (federal, state or local), there are a number of ways to identify comment solicitations on particular issues, but solicitations from federal agencies are usually the easiest to locate (see below for instructions and examples).  Once comments have been submitted, they will appear shortly in the Federal Record, which is accessible by using a search engine on

For comment solicitations from federal agencies, the first place to look is the Federal Register, which is also accessible from the main US government’s new Federal Digital System (FDsys) page.  Once on the Federal Register page, you can select a date of interest (start with today’s listing), and see an ordered list of solicitations/notifications from federal agencies.  The links will take you to the PDFs of the individual solicitations, which describe the comment period (dates during which the agency will accept comment) and submission process, and provide a summary of the information or assistance requested. An alternate mechanism for notification about agency solicitations is to sign up for listservs for specific agencies or advocacy coalition listservs that tend to notify members of solicitations of interest.

Examples of responses to solicitations from federal agencies can be found here:

 An example of a response to a solicitation from a local agency can be found here:

B. Letters to Agencies

Comment solicitations aren’t the only valuable mechanism for interacting with federal agencies.  There are instances where a well-written, scientifically justified letter can be sent directly to an Agency head or responsible staffer outside of a comment solicitation period.  In some cases, these letters may result in responses from Agencies indicative of their positions or planned actions on particular issues.  Examples are listed below. It should be noted that typically those reading comment letters are technical experts (or quasi-experts) who are responsible for writing regulations, even though the letters may be addressed to agency leadership.

An example of this can be found on the CLF LivableFuture blog, which provides the background and PDF links to actual correspondence from CLF and responses from CDC and NIAID leadership. The original correspondence can be found in these three links:

Formatting & Submission Guidelines

  • Length: Between 700 and 1400 words [if the word limit is far different for an actual comment you plan to submit, please discuss with course faculty].  Include a word count at the end of the document. 
  • Please do NOT include title pages; include only your name and the date in the document header.  Include the link to the request for comment, or the target audience of your letter.

Grading Criteria for Interface with a Government Agency

Your grade will be based on:

  • Appropriate selection of a solicitation, agency/audience, and/or topic of your letter
  • How well your topic relates to the core concepts of the course
  • How well your supporting arguments relate to the topic of the comment/letter
  • Your ability to communicate your message to your audience and demonstrate understanding of the complexities of the interactions among food systems, food production, ecosystems and public health.  You should demonstrate in your letter an understanding of the major course element(s) and topic you select, but not try to summarize the entire course.
  • Your integration of KEY concepts presented in this course with your own ideas and perspectives