skip to Main Content
HHRA Executive Director Charles Benbrook harvesting heirloom tomatoes with his grandson Caelen at an organic farm in Oregon.

Archived HHRA News Posts
  • Spraying Pesticides HHRA Answers DPR’s Call for Comments on Its “Roadmap” for Transforming Pest Management

    In a January 26, 2023 press release, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) released a provocative report entitled “Sustainable Pest Management: A Roadmap for California.” The Roadmap report sets “ambitious goals and actions to accelerate California’s systemwide transition to sustainable pest management and eliminate prioritized high-risk pesticides by 2050.” Also by 2050, the Roadmap report envisions that “Sustainable pest management has been adopted as the de facto pest management system in California.” The report captures the ideas and input of a diverse stakeholder group that met over two years to help DPR, Cal-EPA, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture develop a comprehensive plan sufficient to transform agriculture in the State from often heavily-pesticide dependent management systems to systems grounded in pest-prevention, biological control, and reduced-risk biopesticides. The Roadmap identifies and addresses most of the factors shaping pest management systems in the State and calls for dozens of new research, education, training, and regulatory initiatives. In order to guide the implementation process, DPR requested comments from the public that were due March 13, 2023. In crafting HHRA’s comments, Chuck Benbrook and Mark Lipson drew on their decades of experience tracking and advising DPR on pesticide use and regulatory issues.

  • HHRA Paper Analyzes Pesticide Dietary Risk in Individual Samples of Foods

    One of the main sources of pesticide exposure is through  the diet. It is critically important to understand pesticide residues in foods and how dietary risks have changed over time. Over the last 20 years HHRA’s Executive Director Charles Benbrook has developed an analytical database that quantifies the relative risk posed by residues in the diet. Known as the Dietary Risk Index (DRI), this  system was created to help researchers compare risk levels across foods and pesticides, track changes in dietary risk over time, and assess the impact of where food is grown on residues and risk levels, as well as how production systems influence residues and risks (conventional versus organic). The DRI combines the results of United States and United Kingdom pesticide residue testing programs with data on food serving sizes and each pesticide’s chronic Reference Dose or Acceptable Daily Intake. Chronic DRI values are a ratio: the amount of residue in a serving of food relative to the maximum amount allowed by regulators. DRI values are a ratio: the amount of residue in a serving of food relative to the maximum amount allowed by regulators. Data generated by the DRI helps guide HHRA’s policy and public health by highlighting which food-pesticide combinations account for the most worrisome risks in the food supply. The DRI system initially reported aggregate values for a given food/pesticide combination. These values are derived from multiple individual samples of a food collected by regulatory agencies.  For these DRI values, each individual number represents many servings of a given food. In 2022, HHRA added additional functionality the the DRI to report dietary risk in individual samples of a given food. The paper “Tracking pesticide residues and risk levels in individual samples—insights and applications,” which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe in July 2022, describes the methodology and data sources used to calculate these individual sample DRI values, and highlights some of the results and what they can tell us about residue levels in the global food supply. This is the first analytical system worldwide to provide this level of insight into residues in food. As the paper reports, “dietary risk levels are highly skewed. A large number of samples pose moderate, low, or very-low risks, and relatively few samples pose high or very-high risks.” Thus, regulators and researchers can use the DRI to pinpoint where pesticide dietary risks needs to be mitigated. Like all of HHRA’s peer-reviewed publications, this paper is open access and available free of charge. Click here to view the full text. Access DRI data here.

Archived Blog Posts
  • A man spraying pesticides California’s Bold Plan to Transform Pest Management Systems is Long on Ambition and Light on Details

    By: Chuck Benbrook, HHRA ED By: Mark Lipson, HHRA Director of Policy and Regulatory Engagement We welcomed the invitation from California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation for members of the public to offer comments and guidance as the State begins to take concrete actions needed to achieve the goals set forth in the new report Sustainable Pest Management: A Roadmap for California. Reviewing the 94-page Roadmap report reminded us how many constituencies, forces, and factors are pushing and pulling farmers, pest managers, and government agencies in multiple directions that are rarely aligned. This Roadmap document describes a very different pest management future that will hopefully become the “de facto” way pests are managed on and off the farm by 2050. If successful by 2050, prevention-based biointensive Integrated Pest Management (bioIPM) will be the norm and there will be minimal if any use of high-risk “Priority Pesticides”. Some thirty-two years ago, DPR hired Chuck Benbrook to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of DPR’s programs and policies to assist in the integration of DPR into the newly-formed Cal-EPA. The resulting report, Challenge and Change: A Progressive Approach to Pesticide Regulation in California, came out in March of 1993. It provides dozens of recommendations intended to do many of the same things that the 2023 Roadmap report hopes to bring within reach. The fact that most pest management systems in California have become more, not less reliant on pesticides over the last 30 years suggests that DPR’s and CDFA’s efforts to achieve Roadmap goals are going to entail heavy lifting, mostly uphill. For this reason in HHRA’s comments, Mark and Chuck describe the nature and substantial scope of changes in laws and policy that will be required to track progress toward Roadmap goals and hopefully, someday, achieve them.

A Note From Our Executive Director

by Charles Benbrook | Jan 7th, 2021
by Charles Benbrook | Jan 7th, 2021
HHRA Executive Director Charles Benbrook harvesting heirloom tomatoes with his grandson Caelen at an organic farm in Oregon.

Welcome to the Heartland Health Reliance Alliance (HHRA).

This NGO was started by the scientists and clinicians who designed, and are carrying out The Heartland Study (HS). The Heartland Study is a complex, large-scale, long-term public health research project. Its primary goal is to determine whether the substantial increase in use of herbicides since around 2015 in the Midwest is causing an increase in the frequency or severity of adverse birth outcomes across the Heartland. 

Please explore HHRA’s new website to learn about these issues and track the progression of our science.

The mission of the HHRA is unique, as is its flagship project, The Heartland Study. No such project of its scope has ever been undertaken on public health issues arising from agricultural production systems without substantial, multi-year funding from the federal government. But in recent years, federal funding has been cut for several highly successful, long-term studies on children’s health. There seemed virtually no chance government funding would be available for a new and unusual project like The Heartland Study.

The Heartland Study team gathered at Franciscan Health Hospital in Indianapolis, IN in 2019.

And so our team pursued new ways to organize, manage, and fund the HS. We knew funding would have to be cobbled together from many sources, public and private. We wanted to keep overhead expenses as low as possible, so most of the funds raised would support new science. We also recognized the success of The Heartland Study rested on the ability of the science team to stay focused on the science, and the complicated, sensitive public health challenges we have chosen to take on.

Our team also recognized early on that our core mission would require novel integration of scientific tools, methods, and investigative models from several fields. We knew we would need a large and strong team of collaborators, each with deep experience. This is essential for our scientific work to benefit from their experience, their labs and equipment, colleagues and students, as well as sophisticated clinical research-support infrastructure. 

It was crystal clear we would never raise enough money to create all these research skills and capability from fresh ground and new seed, nor would we ever have enough funding to forge traditional, funding-driven partnerships among universities and research hospitals.

Our team found success through building trust, openness in sharing ideas and then finding better ones, and through the democratic sharing of responsibility and ownership. We came to realize The Heartland Study would succeed only if our team of committed scientists and clinicians remained in control. This meant that no one funder, administrator, university, or hospital partner could emerge as the primary fiscal agent and “leader” of the project. 

We had to create, and then retain open, collaborative decision processes on everything from research priorities and methods, recruitment of new partners and staff, and securing and managing funds. Why? Because the only reason a scientist, doctor, or clinical center joins The Heartland Study is because they too are concerned and care about the issues we are trying to shed new light upon. Because they want to help find answers.

Without a “mothership” to vest management and fiscal agent responsibilities upon, we had to invent an alternative. This led to the creation of the Heartland Health Research Alliance, the Heartland Study’s new governing body and principle funder. 

The word “Alliance” is central to what HHRA is about. Our success depends on our ability to live up to the core meaning of the word.

HHRA is focused now on managing and funding the Heartland Study, and related research initiatives in the U.S. and abroad. We are beginning to support graduate education in public health, with a focus on the food and agricultural sectors, and that which sustains us all, our daily bread.

HHRA leaders and scientists share the view that the scope of scientific and technological change in food and farming over the last one-half century has outpaced the ability of physicians and the public health community to recognize and mitigate the impacts of the chemicals and animal drugs now relied on so heavily in farming and food manufacturing. 

We hope the HHRA, and this new way to conduct and fund public health science, will help return public health science to its core mission — preventing harm to public health before it happens. 

-Dr. Charles Benbrook, HHRA Executive Director

Back To Top