Three years ago, I got obsessed with where meat comes from. Kip Anderson’s exposé “Cowspiracy”had come out a few years prior and, while sensationalized, it gave me a passion for something that enveloped environment, policy, and justice. Since then, I’ve written several academic pieces on the factory farming industry and adjusted my purchasing habits away from supporting industrialized farms. Do I sound like PETA yet? Throughout my research I’ve consistently addressed the issue from a human and environmental health point of view, with animal rights being a positive outcome of the latter. My reasoning for this is to steer my point away from sensationalizing theanimal cruelty involved, in favor of a health-based approach to this problematic industry.

Quick background: Factory farming, or intensive livestock farming, is a sector of the Agriculture indAg-GagAcrossAmerica_ReportCover.jpgustry that relies on overcrowding animals and assembly-linestyle production in order to maximize meat output. These facilities have large negative impacts on the surrounding environment including: Water source contamination, greenhouse gas production, and deforestation, and so many other issues.

Okay now you’re caught up. These things are bad, right? So, who’s fighting the good fight? Well...

In the past two decades, “Big Ag” has proposed laws in states across the country that criminalize the efforts of whistleblowers in the industry. These laws have been coined “Ag-Gags” because, by nature, they silence those who intend to call out the harm done by intensive livestock farms. Alabama passed their own Ag-Gag bill in 2002, which makes it a felony offense to obtain access to a property “by false pretenses” and to possess records obtained by deception. This law was directly related to an increase in environmental advocates performing undercover investigations on factory farms under the pretense of employment.

So why is this important? The agricultural industry in America is a high grossing source of income and production but is, by all accounts, necessary. However, powerful, money intensive industries like factory farming have little government oversight when it comes to their environmental health impacts. These production facilities are known to under-report incidents like waste spills and romanticize the idea of their farms to consumers. In this industry, whistle blowers in the media and advocacy groups are theonly people holding these companies accountable for their actions. Ag-Gag bills seek to make it virtually impossible to report on factory farms in order to reduce the amount of incriminating information leaking out of their facilities.

I know what you’re thinking... “What can I do?” As consumers,it’s up to us to consume responsibly. Using your purchasing power to opt for humanely farmed meat shows that you do not condone the actions of this negligent polluting industry. All in all, the future for defeating Ag-Gags looks bright. As of June 2019, 3 states have declared Ag-Gag policies unconstitutional, ruling that the laws infringe upon freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Seventeen other states have blocked such bills from ever being passed.

September 26, 2019 by Suzanne Judd, LHC Director

 

Jury DutyA few weeks ago, I had that wonderful American privilege of being selected for jury duty to the 10th Judicial Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama.  I say “wonderful” tongue-in-cheek since, like most of the people I was chatting with in the Jury Assembly Room, I had no desire to be there.  Parking was a nightmare.  They simply don’t have enough spots for the 400 jurors that were summoned to downtown Birmingham for the shot at being selected to sit on a jury.  This was my second time in three months coming on a Monday morning to wait to see if I would be selected for a jury.  Three months prior, I was dismissed because I had not lived in Jefferson County continuously for a year due to a six-month commitment in France. The disqualification didn’t make sense to me.  Luckily, I was back 90 days later to try again.  And this time, it was even better because Law & Order was on the television to keep me entertained while waiting.  No lie!

Before jury selection began, we sat through a 30-minute explanation of what a great honor it is to be selected as a juror.  The judge described how unique we are as Americans to be allowed to serve as jurors.  In most countries, citizens do not decide the fate of other citizens.  He described the jury selection process in Alabama, which is basically tied to being a registered voter.  Really?  Given all we know about voter suppression in Alabama, one can only assume the same factors affect the juror selection process.  This was a fact that was tough for this former Michigander to digest since Michigan uses driver’s license lists to generate juror pools.  

As I sat looking around the room, I wondered why I can’t, as a voter, be randomly selected to sit down with lawmakers for a week to express ways to improve society rather than sitting here waiting to be selected for a jury.  My registering to vote enables me to sit on a jury to decide another human’s fate but does not provide me with the random chance to meet with the people for whom I voted?  Honestly, I would rather sit down with one of my elected officials for one week.  Nevertheless, I suppose jury service is important even if that means sitting and waiting.

Since I spent hours waiting, I began to meditate on the process for influencing elected officials to create and implement policies.  At times it can seem like citizens don’t have much input.  We can call, write, or email our representatives but that always seems so impersonal.  Layers of bureaucracy obscure the tangible results of those efforts.  If we want to occupy the same space as a candidate, there are town halls and debates but often those feel staged, lacking a real human connection between you and the candidate or elected official.

So where does that leave the average American who wants to be more involved?  Advocacy is one of the key tools to ensure the laws our elected officials pass and the ways in which they spend our collective money are more representative of what we want as a people.  Beyond simply contacting elected officials, an individual can advocate for their opinion by signing petitions, funding advocacy groups, and constantly pursuing information to stay educated about a variety of topics that face society.  Advocating can lead to policies that mold society into something that is more reflective of what the majority of people would like to see.

On the upside, jury duty begrudgingly provided me with needed time and space away from the daily grind to think my own role in influencing laws and policies. I also began to wonder what was on the mind of others. So, in the absence of a random lottery system that grants me access to my elected officials, here are some areas of health policy that seem quite timely:

What are you doing?  Let us know; we would love to hear from you.

It’s nice to see students on campus again. Every summer and winter break, UAB empties and campus feels like a ghost town. Welcome back, to all the students returning for another semester of study; and welcome to your new home, to all of the new students just coming to UAB for the first time.


The School of Public Health is sponsoring some really great Welcome Week events. Check those out here. The exciting thing about going to school at UAB is that there is constantly something happening. The Lister Hill Center has an outstanding lineup of speakers coming this semester, and a symposium to top it all off! All of our scheduled events can be found on the timeline below, and we have more information on upcoming events on both our homepage and our Semester Spotlights page.

 

Fall Timeline

September 11, 2019 by Sean McMahon, LHC Outreach Coordinator

 

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and specifically this week is National Suicide Prevention Week. A friend of mine recently died by suicide, and since then I’ve been diving into national statistic and prevention strategies.

A month ago, I was at my desk, stumped about what to share on the Lister Hill Center’s Facebook page. This is always an involved process. I’d like to share the new Healthcare Triage video each week, but that would be redundant. I’d like to make another post about Medicaid policy changes, but I’d already made a few that month. Still deciding, I logged on and the first this I saw was a post from a former pastor of mine, someone my family has kept in touch with for nearly two decades.

Normally, when I log into Facebook to interact as the Lister Hill Center, I quickly navigate away from the home page so that I don’t bring my personal life to my work desk. However, when you see the words “my oldest son has passed away,” your heart jumps a little bit and you have to take a moment to investigate. Almost immediately I received a text from my sister to tell me the news. She was with the family. She was with them shortly after they were told that their son had taken his own life.

After a week of going through the motions, I went to be with my family and friends. We had an informal memorial; a funeral wasn’t possible just yet. After another week of going through the motions, I went back for the formal funeral service.

Just two months before my friend took his own life, I was taking a policy advocacy course at Johns Hopkins University, crafting a mock proposal (similar to UAB’s annual Global Health Case Competition) for an advocacy plan to decrease suicide rates in India. And now I’m dealing with the very real occurrence of suicide happening within my circle of friends.


NSPL Logo 2Nationwide, a staggering 47,173 people died by suicide in 2017. After adjusting for age, that’s a mortality rate of 14 per 100,000 population. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, just remember that intentional self-harm was the 10th leading cause of death that year. Alabama’s rate (16.2) is higher than the national average.

As for policies enacted to prevent suicide, include: restricting the means (tighter gun control, regulating certain medications, etc.); integrating mental health with primary care; and of mental health services. Someday we’ll find the perfect combination of policies to keep the suicide rate down, but until then there are things we can all do at the individual level to prevent suicides.

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, please take the time to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-(800)-273-8255. To learn more about how the Lifeline operates, join this webinar on September 18.

If you want to get involved with prevention efforts, you can volunteer with the Crisis Center right here in Birmingham.

If someone reaches out to you about having suicidal thoughts, listen to them and help guide them towards seeking help. Don’t tell them everything will be fine, and don’t promise to keep it a secret. This fact sheet from the Alabama Department of Public Health has more information about how to help.