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

Archived HHRA News Posts
  • HHRA-funded Dicamba study published in “agrochemicals”

    Dicamba and 2,4-D in the Urine of Pregnant Women in the Midwest: Comparison of Two Cohorts (2010–2012 vs. 2020–2022) Abstract Currently, there are no known human biomonitoring studies that concurrently examine biomarkers of dicamba and 2,4-D. We sought to compare biomarkers of exposure to herbicides in pregnant women residing in the US Midwest before and after the adoption of dicamba-tolerant soybean technology using urine specimens obtained in 2010–2012 from the Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study: Monitoring Mothers-to-be (N = 61) and in 2020–2022 from the Heartland Study (N = 91). Specific gravity-standardized concentration levels for each analyte were compared between the cohorts, assuming data are lognormal and specifying values below the LOD as left-censored. The proportion of pregnant individuals with dicamba detected above the LOD significantly increased from 28% (95% CI: 16%, 40%) in 2010–2012 to 70% (95% CI: 60%, 79%) in 2020–2022, and dicamba concentrations also significantly increased from 0.066 μg/L (95% CI: 0.042, 0.104) to 0.271 μg/L (95% CI: 0.205, 0.358). All pregnant individuals from both cohorts had 2,4-D detected. Though 2,4-D concentration levels increased, the difference was not significant (p-value = 0.226). Reliance on herbicides has drastically increased in the last ten years in the United States, and the results obtained in this study highlight the need to track exposure and impacts on adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. Keywords: pesticide; exposure; 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid; human biomonitoring You can read the paper here.

  • Crop-killing Weeds Advance Across US as Herbicides Lose Effectiveness

    Farmers say they are losing their battle with weeds at a time when growers are grappling with inflation and extreme weather linked to climate change. Crop-killing weeds such as kochia are advancing across the U.S. northern plains and Midwest, in the latest sign that weeds are developing resistance to chemicals faster than companies including Bayer and Corteva  can develop new ones to fight them. In many cases weeds are developing resistance against multiple herbicides, scientists said. Read the Reuters report here.  Read an earlier post by the HHRA board chair on the problem of resistant weeds here.

  • Heartland Health Research Alliance logo Help Lead this Worthy Cause: The HHRA is Recruiting Board Members

    We are publicly recruiting for board positions to ensure that we move beyond our immediate networks and honor our ongoing commitment to creating a board that is diverse in its composition, inclusive in its culture, and equity-focused in its approach to how it views its mission, its work, and the communities it serves. Our board members are the fiduciaries who steer the HHRA toward a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the HHRA has adequate resources to advance its mission. The Heartland Health Research Alliance (HHRA) is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2020 and dedicated to creating a new future in which cultivating health is the priority of farming. Our mission is to help inform the decisions shaping agriculture by advancing research on the health effects of food and farming. The HHRA seeks to fill vacancies on its board with qualified volunteers who, in addition to the standard roles and responsibilities (see below) of a board member, will be active advocates and ambassadors for the organization. Preferred qualifications 1. Professional experience in public health, medical research, epidemiology, toxicology, or organic farming, 2. A network or experience, or both, that may facilitate grant seeking and fundraising. 3. Commitment to the scientific method and the integrity of research. Essential information 1. The board of the HHRA is a volunteer board. 2. Each term is for three years, to which members can be re-elected once. 3. The board meets four times a year via the Internet. Expectations The HHRA expects each board member to honor the HHRA values and mission, act in the best interest of the HHRA, prepare for the board meetings by reading the agenda and reports, participate in the board meetings, and identify personal and professional connections for HHRA fundraising, grant-seeking, and policy influence. Process 1. To apply to volunteer, please send your CV and a one-page cover letter providing your name, contact information, and a description of either which of the preferred qualifications (above) you will bring to the HHRA or how your unique qualifications can help the HHRA.  Send these materials to Russell K. King, HHRA executive director, at rking@hh-ra.org . 2. Qualified applications will be reviewed by the current board, which will vote on whether to seat a volunteer as a member. (The next board meeting is in February 2024.) 3. The recruiting process will remain open until all seats are filled. Standard board member duties 1) Board members should advance the mission of the organization Overall, spreading awareness for your mission will promote growth and empower your team to flourish in its work. 2) Board members should prepare for and attend board meetings Review the agenda in advance. Everyone should understand all matters on the agenda heading into the meeting. Participation in discussions is a big part of why you choose someone for a role on the board. Fulfilling these duties is part of acting in good faith for any board member. 3) Board members hire, set compensation for, support, and collaborate with the executive director Hiring and supporting the executive director is one of the most important board member responsibilities.  The executive director is the professional hired to as bring nonprofit leadership and operational expertise to the HRRA’s daily operations and to advice and educate the board on matters relating to nonprofit governance and operations, so this board role is crucial to the organization’s health. 4) Board members are responsible for recruiting new members Drawing on your professional and personal networks, seek new members who have needed skills and qualities that are missing from the current board. 5) Every board member must fulfill three specific core legal responsibilities. Duty of Care Attending meetings and actively participating. Communicating with the executive director and other board members. Following through on assignments.. Supporting programs. Duty of Loyalty Support HHRA’s mission. Be a loyal ambassador for HHRA’s cause. All activities and decisions should be in the best interest of the organization, not in the best interest of the individual board member. Support the HHRA executive director. Duty of Obedience Adhere to HHRA’s bylaws, policies, and board decisions.

  • Fairness and Trust in Organic Food Supply Chains

    From the British Food Journal Findings show that perceived distributional, procedural and interactional fairness mutually interact with the perceived trustworthiness of business partners and that both contribute to building personal, organisational and institutional trust. Qualitative data support the conceptual model and show that trust is a valuable relational resource that affects relationship quality and the willingness to collaborate and to take risks in times of uncertainty.   More here.

  • Heartland Study Methods Paper Published in Chemosphere

    A methods paper is about our flagship study is being published in Chemosphere, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published since 1972 by Elsevier. It publishes both original research and review articles in environmental chemistry.  We extend our thanks to the authors: Jessica Larose, Jean-François Bienvenu, Patrick Bélanger, Éric Gaudreau, Yunpeng Yu, and David M. Guise.  

Archived Blog Posts
  • Securing the Future of Science: Planned Giving for HHRA

    Planned giving is the process of donating planned gifts, also known as legacy gifts, which are contributions that are arranged in the present and allocated at a future date. Commonly donated through a will or trust, planned gifts are usually granted when a donor passes away.  If you’d like to plan a gift for to support the important work of HHRA, you may use this form.  Thank you. Tax benefits:  Donors can contribute appreciated property, like securities or real estate, receive a charitable deduction for the full market value of the asset, and pay no capital gains tax on the transfer.  Donors who establish a life-income gift receive a tax deduction for the full, fair market value of the assets contributed, minus the present value of the income interest retained; if they fund their gift with appreciated property they pay no upfront capital gains tax on the transfer.  Gifts payable to the HHRA upon the donor’s death, like a bequest or a beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy or retirement account, do not generate a lifetime income tax deduction for the donor, but they are exempt from estate tax. More information: For those who wish to make legacy gifts that are guaranteed to support their own philanthropic interests and intentions, planned or deferred gifts may be most effective. Planned gifts require more planning than most current gifts or income or equity, often including legal and accounting counsel from a donor’s trusted advisors. Because these gifts produce philanthropic benefits to recipient organizations, there may be benefits to the donors or their heirs via reductions in state or federal income, capital gains, estate, or gift taxes. There are many ways to make planned gifts, the most simple of which are life insurance policies, designated distributions from retirement funds, or bequests, where donors designate a percentage or a specific amount of their estate to the recipient charity.  Specific amounts are preferable, as they do not require a full valuation of the estate before distribution can be made. For donors over the age of 70 ½ years who are required to take minimum annual distributions from their Traditional or Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), up to $100,000 may be directed to charitable causes, with potentially significant tax savings each year. More complex planned giving arrangements such as charitable gift annuities, charitable remainder unitrusts, charitable remainder annuity trusts, lead trusts and others may provide donors with guaranteed income for the remainder of their lives in exchange for funds transferred to charities now. The gist of most such gift vehicles involves a donor making a current gift to a charity with commensurate tax benefits, the charity paying the donor per agreed-upon terms from those funds in the years that follow, with the remainder of the funds at the donor’s death remaining with the charity in perpetuity.

  • HHRA Earns 2024 Highest Recognition for Transparency

    By Russell K. King, HHRA Executive Director I’m pleased to announce that the HHRA has once again earned the Candid Platinum Seal of Transparency (our first was in 2023)-–an achievement earned by fewer than one percent of US-based nonprofits. The Candid Platinum Seal is the highest level of recognition offered by Candid (formerly known as GuideStar) and is awarded to organizations that meet the highest standards of transparency and accountability. The Candid Platinum Seal demonstrates the HHRA’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Our board, staff, volunteers, and partners believe that by sharing our data, metrics, and strategic priorities with the public, we can build trust and confidence in our organization and our work. To earn the Candid Platinum Seal, non-profit organizations must meet a rigorous set of criteria, including providing complete and accurate information about their mission, programs, finances, and governance on the Candid website, and sharing strategic priorities and information about outcomes.

  • Russell King | Executive Director The Importance of Integrity

    By Russell K. King, HHRA Executive Director Living, as we do, during an era overwhelmed by misinformation, disinformation, mistrust, grifters, posers, and pretenders, integrity is an increasingly rare and valuable quality. For a nonprofit organization like the HHRA, integrity is essential. By funding the Heartland Study, we are seeking the answer to a controversial question:  Are there health problems for mothers and infants that correlate to higher exposure of agricultural chemicals? Why is that controversial? Because there are people who insist they already know the answer and, regardless of whether they insist it’s “yes” or “no,” they prefer we don’t ask. They have vested interests in the answers they promote and fear an unbiased scientific inquiry may produce an answer that does not support those interests. A vested interest—”a strong personal interest in something because you could get an advantage from it,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary—is deadly to integrity. We don’t know whether we’re being told the truth or being told what advances your interest, so we can’t fully believe you. Doubt will endure and undermine your message. Thankfully, the HHRA has no vested interest in the outcome of the Heartland Study. The chair of the HHRA Science Advisory Committee insists we must be “agnostic about the outcome,” and the chair of the HHRA Board of Directors insists we must not “get ahead of the data.”  The principle investigator for the Heartland Study oft reminds us to “always let the science lead.”  As the HHRA executive director, I don’t care what the answer is, but I’m certain the question must be asked. The HHRA and the scientists working on the Heartland Study are not out to prove the answer is yes or no, but to learn whether the answer is yes or no. Likewise, our donors are supporting the effort to find “the” answer not “an” answer. There are no foregone conclusions here. All of which points to the integrity of our mission and our work. Integrity is demonstrated and enhanced by transparency, which is why the HHRA makes public its IRS determination letter, audited financials, bylaws (including our conflict of interest policy), strategic plan, gift acceptance policy, volunteers and staff, and the Heartland Study’s methods paper, published in a peer-reviewed journal.  Such transparency has already earned the highest award from Candid. Integrity yields many positive results.  First, the people and foundations that support the HHRA can know that the money they donate is being used for its stated purpose.  Second, and more importantly, the people who will eventually learn of our outcomes and recommendations, if any, can know that they can trust what they’re being told. That trust will make it more likely that our work will be used in improving public health.  And that is what it’s all about.

  • Russell K. King | Executive Director Holding the “Splendid Torch”

    By Russell K. King, MBA, HHRA Executive Director This time of year is especially rich with holidays that inspire deeper thoughts about our lives.  While peering through the steam rising from my coffee and contemplating my own mix of Thanksgiving gratitude, Christmas joy, and New Year’s hope and resolution, I heard the words of G. B. Shaw coming back to me: “This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” Shaw’s words drew the HHRA into my musing.  Yes, the mission of the HHRA is a purpose I find “mighty” for which I hope to be “used up,” but I realized it’s much more than just one mighty purpose or worthy cause.  Within the HHRA mission, there are a number of splendid torches we may proudly carry. In the HHRA’s flagship program, the Heartland Study, we can find the worthy causes of maternal health, children’s health and development, environmental health, and public health, among others.  The HHRA’s Dietary Risk Index encompasses at least the worthy causes of consumer choice, food safety, and public health. Our Pesticide Use Data System and policy recommendations activities are also fertile with worthy efforts and promise. In our era, science is too often twisted to suit political, religious, and pecuniary ends, but the HHRA holds high the splendid torch of science as a search for truth.  The chair of our board oft reminds us “not to get ahead of the data,” and the chair of our science advisory committee reminds us of our obligation to be “agnostic about the outcomes” of our study.  I’m proud to say my own life has been spent promoting science and combating both pseudoscience and anti-science.  While much of the world tries to create data to fit their agenda, we are trying to learn what the data tell us.  Of all the splendid torches the HHRA offers us, my own favorite me be this:  Science unfettered by ulterior motives. In this season of reflection and contemplation of the deeper things of life, I urge you to recognize and cherish the worthy causes you are serving with your life.  If you’re still searching for a worthy cause that will bring you a taste of Shaw’s “true joy in life,” I invite you to join and support our work at the HHRA.  Find your splendid torch and carry it high!

  • Heartland Health Research Alliance logo Help Lead this Worthy Cause: The HHRA is Recruiting Board Members

    We are publicly recruiting for board positions to ensure that we move beyond our immediate networks and honor our ongoing commitment to creating a board that is diverse in its composition, inclusive in its culture, and equity-focused in its approach to how it views its mission, its work, and the communities it serves. Our board members are the fiduciaries who steer the HHRA toward a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the HHRA has adequate resources to advance its mission. The Heartland Health Research Alliance (HHRA) is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2020 and dedicated to creating a new future in which cultivating health is the priority of farming. Our mission is to help inform the decisions shaping agriculture by advancing research on the health effects of food and farming. The HHRA seeks to fill vacancies on its board with qualified volunteers who, in addition to the standard roles and responsibilities (see below) of a board member, will be active advocates and ambassadors for the organization. Preferred qualifications 1. Professional experience in public health, medical research, epidemiology, toxicology, or organic farming, 2. A network or experience, or both, that may facilitate grant seeking and fundraising. 3. Commitment to the scientific method and the integrity of research. Essential information 1. The board of the HHRA is a volunteer board. 2. Each term is for three years, to which members can be re-elected once. 3. The board meets four times a year via the Internet. Expectations The HHRA expects each board member to honor the HHRA values and mission, act in the best interest of the HHRA, prepare for the board meetings by reading the agenda and reports, participate in the board meetings, and identify personal and professional connections for HHRA fundraising, grant-seeking, and policy influence. Process 1. To apply to volunteer, please send your CV and a one-page cover letter providing your name, contact information, and a description of either which of the preferred qualifications (above) you will bring to the HHRA or how your unique qualifications can help the HHRA.  Send these materials to Russell K. King, HHRA executive director, at rking@hh-ra.org . 2. Qualified applications will be reviewed by the current board, which will vote on whether to seat a volunteer as a member. (The next board meeting is in February 2024.) 3. The recruiting process will remain open until all seats are filled. Standard board member duties 1) Board members should advance the mission of the organization Overall, spreading awareness for your mission will promote growth and empower your team to flourish in its work. 2) Board members should prepare for and attend board meetings Review the agenda in advance. Everyone should understand all matters on the agenda heading into the meeting. Participation in discussions is a big part of why you choose someone for a role on the board. Fulfilling these duties is part of acting in good faith for any board member. 3) Board members hire, set compensation for, support, and collaborate with the executive director Hiring and supporting the executive director is one of the most important board member responsibilities.  The executive director is the professional hired to as bring nonprofit leadership and operational expertise to the HRRA’s daily operations and to advice and educate the board on matters relating to nonprofit governance and operations, so this board role is crucial to the organization’s health. 4) Board members are responsible for recruiting new members Drawing on your professional and personal networks, seek new members who have needed skills and qualities that are missing from the current board. 5) Every board member must fulfill three specific core legal responsibilities. Duty of Care Attending meetings and actively participating. Communicating with the executive director and other board members. Following through on assignments.. Supporting programs. Duty of Loyalty Support HHRA’s mission. Be a loyal ambassador for HHRA’s cause. All activities and decisions should be in the best interest of the organization, not in the best interest of the individual board member. Support the HHRA executive director. Duty of Obedience Adhere to HHRA’s bylaws, policies, and board decisions.

A Note From Our Former 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

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