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A new HHRA paper highlights the need to convert cropland growing fruits and vegetables to organic in order to reduce consumer's dietary risk from pesticide residues.

Archived HHRA News Posts
  • Heartland Study Enrolls 1,000th Mother-Infant Pair

    July 19, 2024 – In June of this year, the Heartland Study achieved a major milestone, enrolling its 1,000th mother-infant pair. Enrollment is now at 50% of goal. The objective of the Study is to help fill major gaps in our understanding of the impacts of herbicides on maternal and infant health. Currently in Phase 1, the Study is focused on evaluating associations between herbicide concentrations in body fluids and tissue samples from pregnant women and infants, and pregnancy/childbirth outcomes. Phase 2 is designed to evaluate potential associations between herbicide biomarkers and early childhood neurological development. Much appreciation for the mothers enrolled, and the entire Heartland Study Team including scientists, support staff and clinicians for this tremendous achievement, and for our funders to making this work possible. Read more about the study including peer-reviewed studies published in Chemosphere and Agrichemicals at our publications  page. The investment required to conduct this study exceeds $1 million each year. You can support this important work by making a donation here.

  • HHRA’s 2023 Annual Report

    Last year was a year of progress for the HHRA and the Heartland Study. Read about it here!  

  • Supporting HHRA and the Heartland Study Through Donor-Advised Funds

    An increasingly popular way to manage charitable giving is by donating cash, securities, or other assets into a donor-advised fund (DAF), from which you will receive an immediate tax deduction. From this, donors can recommend grants to IRS-qualified nonprofit organizations.  DAFs are one of the easiest and most tax-advantageous ways to “grow” resources earmarked for future charitable giving.  The HHRA is an IRS-qualified organization, and we encourage you to use your DAF, if you have one, to support our mission. You can find three simple steps to supporting our research via your DAF here.  Simple and convenient, your DAF can have genuine effects on the health of mothers, babies, and future generations.  Thank you!

  • 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.

HHRA Paper Quantifies Impact of Organic Farming on Pesticide Use and Dietary Risks

Jul 6th, 2021
Jul 6th, 2021
A new HHRA paper highlights the need to convert cropland growing fruits and vegetables to organic in order to reduce consumer's dietary risk from pesticide residues.

A new HHRA paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Agronomy reports significant impacts of organic farming systems on pesticide use and the risks stemming from pesticide residues on food.

“Organic Farming Lessens Reliance on Pesticides and Promotes Public Health by Lowering Dietary Risks” was co-authored by HHRA Executive Director Chuck Benbrook, and research partners Susan Kegley, and Brian Baker. Published on June 22nd, this is an open-access, free to download paper accessible via our bibliography.

Lead author Dr. Benbrook has published several papers over three decades comparing pesticide use and risks in organic versus conventional foods but states that “This paper contains the most rigorous, data-driven comparison of pesticide use and dietary risks on organic fields producing a give crop compared to nearby conventionally managed fields. Our findings are encouraging.”

The 36-page paper provides detailed comparisons of pesticide use on organic farms compared to nearby conventional farms growing the same crop. The team developed a methodology to extract the data needed to make such comparisons from the detailed Pesticide Use Reports collected and made available by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The EPA has approved just 91 active ingredients for use as pesticides on organic farms (see Table S.1 in the paper’s supplemental tables for the full list). Many of these are common ingredients found in many households, such as isopropyl alcohol, soap, vinegar, and clove oil. Meanwhile there are over 1,200 pesticide active ingredients approved for use on conventional farms.

Tables in the paper compare pesticide use on nearby organic and conventional carrot, grape, and tomato fields in selected California counties. “The techniques we developed to do this work made it possible to use the California pesticide use data to easily find organically managed fields and compare pesticide use between organic and conventional crops in the same county,” according to co-author Dr. Susan Kegley.

In a many cases in California, the same grower manages fields producing the same crop under these two management systems. The team developed methods to identify such fields and compare the pesticides used on each, as shown in the interactive graphic below.

The detailed comparisons of the residues and risk levels in organic and conventional foods were done using HHRA’s Dietary Risk Index (DRI) system. The data sources and methodologies embedded in that system are described in a 2020 paper in the journal Environmental Health.

You can access a series of interactive tables reporting DRI system results comparing residues and risks in organic and conventional foods on Hygeia Analytics. These tables draw on pesticide residue data from the USDA and pesticide toxicity data from the EPA.

A key conclusion of the team’s analysis is that by converting the 1.2% of US cropland growing fruits and vegetables to organic production, the nation’s farmers could dramatically reduce pesticide dietary exposures and risk.

“We have empirical evidence to support what organic farmers have known all along. It is possible to grow high quality crops with biological and cultural practices, instead of relying primarily on toxic pesticides,” says co-author Dr. Brian Baker. Doing so will lead to substantial public health gains, especially for pregnant women, infants, and children, and those people applying pesticides and exposed to them occupationally in or near farm fields.

Our blog “Take Home Messages in ‘Organic Farming Lessens Reliance on Pesticides and Promotes Public Health by Lowering Dietary Risks‘” provides a summary of the new paper and its key implications and recommendations.

Additional Resources:

  • Blog series on Hygeia Anaytics – “Special Coverage on Organic Integrity.” This series of blogs includes substantial discussion and information on pesticide residues and risk in organic food, and steps the organic produce industry and leading farmers are taking to assure compliance with National Organic Program rules.
  • To hear what a farmer has to say, see the “Organic Food and Pesticide Residues, One Grower’s Perspective” blog by Larry Jacobs, which discusses current challenges — and concerns — in the organic produce industry.
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