skip to Main Content
Dr. Robin Mesnage is a Research Associate in the Department of Medical & Molecular Genetics at King's College in London. For more on the importance and implications of this research, see our FAQ and  guest blog by pediatrician and HHRA Science Advisory Board member Dr. Michelle Perro.

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
  • Russell King | Executive Director Reading Science: A Guide for We Who Are Not Scientists

    By Russell K. King, HHRA Executive Director Less than a week ago, the academic publisher Sage Journals retracted studies that questioned the long-established safety record of mifepristone. In December. Nature ran a piece noting that, in 2023, more than 10,000 scientific papers–a record number–were retracted. Not understanding the data, the anti-science voices decry the retractions as proof of corruption in the research community. Misunderstanding scientific publishing is an old and common problem. Early in my career, I was editor of a peer-reviewed medical journal, and part of my job was to translate the scientific language into messages more easily understood by nonscientific readers. I offer here a guide to reading scientific papers when you’re not a scientist. This method is not the only method, and I didn’t create it, but I’ve found it useful. Before I do, however, I hasten to say that the wave of retractions last year does not indicate a wave of fraud in science. The number of journals in publication rose from 1 million in 1997 to 3 million in 2020, yet the average number of retractions per journal has remained largely flat during that time.  Half of the retractions are for reasons other than fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. The data seem to say the scientific community has stepped up.  Scientists are pressuring journals, and, in turn, journals are improving their policing of papers after publication. Reading scientific papers Step by step: 1. read the abstract to get the general idea of what the paper is about; 2. read the figures and legends to understand the data (then look to see whether they align with the conclusions in the abstract); 3. read the discussion, where the authors summarize and interpret the data (then see whether it aligns with the data in the figures and the overview in the abstract); and 4. if it’s not your field of expertise (true for most of us, even if it’s hard to admit), read the introduction to get a feel for what the relevant literature says; 5. if you’re evaluating how they got from the data to the conclusions, read the discussion (are they using standard methods, missing controls, using a representative sample and a control group, etc.?); and 6. read through a few references to see whether they say what the authors claim they do (padding the references with papers that do not fit is often a way to build false credibility). Red flags As you’re reading, keep your eyes open for signs that should cause you to pause and question the paper’s validity. Red flags don’t necessarily mean the paper is untrustworthy, just that we should not draw conclusions without digging deeper.  Some such red flags are: 1. the author has no expertise in the subject of the paper (is their degree in a relevant field, have they worked in the field, have they previously published in the field in reputable journals?)–crossovers are not uncommon, but these will typically have a coauthor who has credible expertise; 2. the references are old, meaning fewer than six citations from the past five years; 3. the results asserted are not closely tied to the data or are not placed in context with other studies; 4. the conclusions contradict the literature or general scientific consensus–advances happen, but this should prompt us to withhold judgment until we get more information; 5. funders are not disclosed; 6. conflicts of interest are not declared; and 7. the results have not been peer reviewed. Know yourself Because science and anti-science have become such powerful forces in cultural and political differences, it’s vital that we check ourselves as we read and evaluate scientific papers. No matter how well trained we are in critical thinking, no matter how separate we think we are from the cultural and political echo chambers around us, we are still human and we are still given to myriad thinking errors. To deal with the overwhelming amount of information our brains take in, our brains seek shortcuts to lessen the burden. Sometimes these shortcuts are helpful; too often they are not. At minimum, we process information through our personal confirmation bias and a complex, overlapping, ever-changing matrix of internal filters made of everything from our DNA to what we had for lunch. We must ask ourselves–more often than is comfortable–whether our understanding of what we’re reading is being distorted by our own emotions, preferences, prejudices, assumptions, and hopes. This requires us to be honest with ourselves about our emotions, preferences, prejudices, assumptions, and hopes. Read! Science is always emerging, never static. By the moment, it grows ever broader, deeper, more beautiful, more fascinating, and more important to our lives. We depend on science to bring us new information and understanding, to correct the errors of our past and–yes–to retract papers that are erroneous. The 10,000 retractions of 2023 should enhance, not undermine, our appreciation for the men and women of science who share their work with us.  What’s happening in science is exciting, and I promise you that reading about it is more than worth the effort.    

  • 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!

Guest Blog: Dr. Robin Mesnage on Groundbreaking Glyphosate-Microbiome Study

Jan 26th, 2021
Jan 26th, 2021
Dr. Robin Mesnage is a Research Associate in the Department of Medical & Molecular Genetics at King's College in London. For more on the importance and implications of this research, see our FAQ and  guest blog by pediatrician and HHRA Science Advisory Board member Dr. Michelle Perro.

By: Robin Mesnage, PhD

Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria which are critical to good health. Because the once-in-a-century herbicide glyphosate can kill bacteria in a petri dish, the notion that glyphosate acts as an antibiotic in the human gut, and as a result is causing human disease, has gained prominence. However, whether and how glyphosate affects the gut microbiome is still an open question. It is what prompted me a few years ago to switch my research focus to the study of the effect of glyphosate on the gut microbiome.

Together with my group leader Dr. Michael Antoniou at King’s College London, we have put together an international team of scientists based in London, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. We have carried out the first in-depth animal study on the impact of glyphosate on the gut microbiome. After three years spent conducting the experiment and crunching numbers on glyphosate’s impacts on the rat microbiome, our findings have been published in Environmental Health Perspectives the 27th of January, 2021.

The Microbiome and Gut-Brain Connection
The gut microbiome contains billions of cells that we are learning play an important role in our physical, and even mental, health.

Let’s dive into our results. First, did glyphosate act as an antibiotic? The short answer is no. In order for glyphosate to act as an antibiotic, it needs to cause a significant shortage in the production of compounds in bacteria called aromatic amino acids. This is how glyphosate kills plants. More specifically, it interrupts a series of chemical reactions within the shikimate pathway.

We reveal for the first time that glyphosate does inhibit the shikimate pathway in the rat gut microbiome. However, glyphosate likely did not kill bacteria via its impact on the shikimate pathway, because bacteria do not need the shikimate pathway to get the aromatic amino acids they need. Like us, they get them from the food we eat.

Glyphosate’s impact on the shikimate pathway had other consequences. A multitude of small molecules (metabolites) accumulated, while others were depleted in the rat gut. The bacterial composition of the gut microbiome also changed, with some bacteria present at higher levels in the glyphosate exposed animals.

We have an explanation for this: the glyphosate molecule contains one atom of phosphorus, and it is very likely that this phosphorus was used as a source of energy by some bacteria to proliferate in the rat gut. It is not clear whether the changes caused by glyphosate in the gut were pathological. However, these changes are a reflection of impacts that can serve as a biomarker to detect whether glyphosate is having an effect on the gut microbiome in humans.

We had another important question to answer: did glyphosate’s impact in the gut stay in the gut? We evaluated this by tracking whether the changes in gut microbiome chemistry caused changes in blood composition.

The compounds altered as a consequence of the interruption of the shikimate pathway by glyphosate in the gut were mostly unchanged in blood. However, other chemicals had their levels disrupted by glyphosate, with some indicating that glyphosate caused oxidative stress.

Roundup Bioflow is the predominant glyphosate formulation in Europe.

Oxidative stress is produced when free radicals are created in such quantities that the body’s defense mechanisms are overwhelmed and cannot prevent damage to cells and DNA — the building blocks of our bodies. It is not fully clear if this oxidative stress is due to the action of glyphosate in the gut microbiome, although our results indicated that Roundup caused a depletion in protective compounds such carotenoids in the gut microbiome that could potentially explain this oxidative stress.

This oxidative stress was even more pronounced when we tested a commercial herbicide containing glyphosate called Roundup Bioflow (also known as MON 52276, the representative glyphosate herbicide in the EU that regulators are focusing on).

It is possible that the altered molecular profiles we observed could serve as a biomarker to better understand if oxidative stress is impairing the health of agricultural workers exposed to glyphosate.

What are the next steps? It is not clear whether the changes caused by glyphosate in the gut were pathological. This study is a first step, and we hope that our new findings will be used as a foundation by other scientists to make new studies.

We are conducting more studies at the moment to understand if this oxidative stress caused by glyphosate is also damaging DNA, and hence raising the risk of cancer. This work will progress through collaborations with The Heartland Study, the Heartland Health Research Alliance [click here to sign up for updates from HHRA], and the Ramazzini Institute. To be continued!

 

Back To Top