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A new HHRA paper looks at how organic farming reduces pesticide use and dietary exposure.

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  • 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.

Take Home Messages in “Organic Farming Lessens Reliance on Pesticides and Promotes Public Health by Lowering Dietary Risks”

Jul 7th, 2021
Jul 7th, 2021
A new HHRA paper looks at how organic farming reduces pesticide use and dietary exposure.

We are excited to share the release of this HHRA sponsored peer-reviewed paper. HHRA’s Executive Director Dr. Charles Benbrook is the lead author,  click here to view the paper, and read on for a user-friendly summary of the findings.


Did you know there are pesticide residues in and on your food on a daily basis (unless you seek out and consume mostly organic food)? Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fumigants, and plant growth regulators. These chemicals can be taken up by crops and some make their way to your kitchen table.

We have all heard the saying “you are what you eat.” Yet a question lingers largely unanswered — What are the chemicals in the food we eat doing to our bodies, our health, and the integrity of the human genome (i.e. the DNA in our genes)?

Cutting-edge research has begun to shed new and brighter light on the ways pesticide exposure can contribute to or cause adverse health outcomes. Pesticide exposures have been linked to multiple health problems including cancer, getting and staying pregnant, developmental delays in children, heritable genetic changes, altered gut health, neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, and other chronic health problems. Clearly, pesticides can adversely impact the brain and our neurological system, the human immune system, and our reproductive health.

Neurological impacts increase the risk of autism, ADHD, bad behavior, and can reduce IQ and hasten mental decline among the elderly. Anything that impairs the functioning of the immune system increases the risk of cancer, serious infections, and can worsen viral pandemics, as we have regretfully learned throughout the Covid-19 outbreak. Several pesticides have been shown to cause or contribute to infertility, spontaneous abortion, and a range of birth defects and metabolic problems in newborns and children as they grow up.

So how do we avoid potentially harmful pesticide exposures?

In the USA in 2021, the surest way to minimize pesticide dietary exposure and health risks is to consume organically grown food. How do we know? We have run the numbers.

A recently-published HHRA paper, written by a team led by the HHRA Executive Director Chuck Benbrook, draws on multiple state and federal data sources in comparing the dietary risks stemming from pesticide residues in organic vs conventionally grown foods. The new paper is entitled “Organic Farming Lessens Reliance on Pesticides and Promotes Public Health by Lowering Dietary Risks”, and was published by the European journal Agronomy. Benbrook was joined by co-authors Dr. Susan Kegley and Dr. Brian Baker in conducting the research reported in the paper.

There is good news in the paper’s many data-heavy tables.  Organic farms use pesticides far less often and less intensively than on nearby conventional farms growing the same crop (see the chart below for an example from California). On organic farms, pesticides are an infrequently used tool, applied only when needed and after a variety of other control methods have been deployed. Plus, only a small subset of currently registered pesticides can be used on organic farms – just 91 active ingredients are approved for organic use, compared to the 1,200 available to conventional farmers. Pesticides approved by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) are typically exempt from the requirement for a tolerance set by the EPA because they possess no, or very low, toxicity. NOP-approved pesticides cannot contain toxic, synthetic additives or active ingredients. Many of them are familiar household products, like soap, vinegar, clove oil, and rubbing alcohol.

On many conventional farms, pesticides are the primary, or even sole tool used by farmers to avoid costly damage to crops by pests. Conventional farmers also have far more pesticide choices. The products registered for many crops include known toxic and high-risk chemicals linked to a number of adverse health outcomes.

More good news — choosing and consuming organic food, especially fruits and vegetables, can largely eliminate the risks posed by pesticide dietary exposure (see figure below). In general, the residues of any given pesticide in organic samples are usually markedly lower than the same residue in conventional samples. This is important because pesticide residues in fruit and vegetable products account for well over 95% of overall pesticide dietary risks across the entire food supply. The pesticide-risk reduction benefits of organic farming now extend to a little over 10% of the nation’s fruit and vegetable supply.

Impacts on the farm and farmers.

While the dietary risks from pesticide use on organic farms compared to conventional farms is the focus of the Agronomy paper, the consequences of heavy reliance on pesticides by many conventional farms are also discussed. These include the emergence and spread of resistant weeds, insects, and plant pathogens that then require farmers to spray more pesticides, more often, and sometimes at higher rates – this is known as the herbicide treadmill. The heavy reliance on pesticides on conventional farms also can impair soil health and degrade water quality. It can undermine both above and below-ground biodiversity, and in some areas has decimated populations of insects and other organisms, including pollinators, birds, and fish.

People applying pesticides and people working in or near treated fields are the most heavily exposed and face the highest risks. A grower’s choices in knitting together an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system impacts workers, consumers, and the environment. Organic farmers rely on biological, cultural, and other non-chemical methods in their prevention-based IPM systems and generally succeed in keeping pests in check.

Switching from conventional farming to organic production takes time and requires new skills and tactics. Most farmers who have made the change have done so mostly on their own. Other organic farmers and their pest control advisors remain the primary source of technical support and encouragement for neighboring farmers thinking about taking the plunge.

Transitioning to organic farming.

The authors end the paper with a review of concrete actions, policy changes, and investments needed to support those willing to make the transition to organic.

First, “organic farmers need better access to packing, processing and storage facilities linked into wholesale and retail supply chains.” In fact, many farmers hesitate to transition to organic not because of problems adhering to organic farming methods or controlling pests, but because of a lack of marketing opportunities.

Second, agribusiness firms have shown little interest in developing and manufacturing the specialized tools and inputs needed by organic farmers. There are many unmet needs. Tillage and cultivation equipment suitable for small-scale operations is hard to come by, unless imported from Europe.

Infrastructure investments are needed to increase the supply and quality, and lower the cost of compost and other soil amendments. More cost-effective ways are needed for organic farmers — and indeed all farmers — to rely on insect pheromones in disrupting mating and microbial biopesticides that control pests by disrupting their development, reproduction, or metabolism.

Third and perhaps most important is “public education and access to information about the significant health, environmental, animal welfare, farmer, and worker benefits that arise when conventional growers successfully switch to organic farming.”

The case for transitioning most of the approximate 1.2% of US cropland growing fruits and vegetables to organic is strong and bound to grow more compelling. The paper points out that the technology and systems exist to rapidly increase the organic share of fruit and vegetable production from a little over 10% today to over 70% in five to 10 years. The only thing holding back growers is the lack of demand.

As more farmers switch to organic, more investment in tools, technology, infrastructure, and human skills will bring to organic food supply chains the same economies of scale that now make conventional produce so affordable. As a result, over time the organic price premium will narrow as the supply of organic produce expands.

Organic farming reduces pesticide reliance and dramatically reduces dietary risk. The opportunity to promote healthy pregnancies and thriving newborns via farming system changes will join the need to build soil health and combat climate change in driving new investments and policy changes that will hopefully support farmers open to innovation and willing to transition to organic.

Access more information on the paper on our website.

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