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This corn field is overrun with resistant weeds.

Archived Blog Posts
  • HHRA Earns Highest Rating from Guidestar/Candid

    By Russell K. King, executive director I’m pleased to announce that the HHRA has earned the Candid Platinum Seal of Transparency for 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. It’s an achievement that’s doubly important for the HHRA. 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. So why is this doubly important for the HHRA?  It’s important for all nonprofit organizations seeking grants and donations because the Candid Platinum Seal is a globally recognized acknowledgement that can inspire a higher level of confidence in the organization among potential grantors and donors–thereby making them far more likely to give. For the HHRA, however, it’s also important because our mission is one that relies on our credibility.  For our work to make a difference in people’s lives, people have to trust our processes, our findings, and our recommendations. The Candid Platinum Seal will help tell the world that, indeed, the HHRA is to be trusted. The leadership of the HHRA has always put integrity of the science first, which sets the HHRA apart in en era awash in willful misinformation and pseudoscience. I’ve long been a fierce advocate for the integrity in science, science reporting, and health information, so I’m proud to carry the torch that’s been passed to me. The HHRA supports researchers willing to seek answers to controversial questions. Our alliance of doctors, researchers, policy experts, and communicators works to answer questions that the government and private sector are too often unable or unwilling to address.  Through it all, we adhere strictly to scientific and ethical best practices to keep our research above reproach. The Candid Platinum Seal is an echo of the values that form the heart of the HHRA.  Let’s wear it with pride as we move forward.

  • Russell King | Executive Director Greetings from the New Executive Director

    By Russell K. King, HHRA Executive Director But yield who will to their separation,My object in living is to uniteMy avocation and my vocationAs my two eyes make one in sight. Robert Frost’s sentiment rang in my ears as I considered adopting the HHRA’s mission as my own. Why, after more than 25 years as a nonprofit CEO, would I take on a challenge of this complexity? Typically, when evaluating a potential professional challenge, you compare the attributes and experiences needed with those you possess. If they align sufficiently, it’s a good omen. I’ve spent more than a decade leading nonprofit organization through transitions, including a foundation that funded scientific research and two associations of medical professionals. I’ve created two development programs and led four others. And I’ve shared my expertise in nonprofit governance and policy, communications, and servant leadership. This constellation of what HHRA needs and what I can offer suggested that this was the direction I should follow. But there was something more. That something echoed Frost’s lines above: The chance to unite that which I enjoy, that which is most meaningful to me, with my work, thus uniting “my avocation and my vocation.” The two principles that have driven both my personal and professional lives have been: 1) we best find our way via the rigors and integrity of the scientific method, and 2) we create the richest meanings for our lives when we strive to help others. The HHRA, using science to improve and protect human health, rings both those bells with vigor. So here I am, eager to help the HHRA build on its illustrious beginnings and move to its next stage of development and growth. I will, of course, need your help. I won’t be shy about asking for it; please don’t be shy about offering it. This mission will require our collaboration, cooperation, and coordination. It will present moments in which we must support, encourage, and inspire each other. Worthy missions always do. For me, it’s the worthiness that matters most. Again, as Frost noted, we do this because it’s the right thing to do: Only where love and need are one,And the work is play for mortal stakes,Is the deed ever really doneFor Heaven and the future’s sakes.

  • 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.

Is a Weed Management Trainwreck Around the Corner? – Reflections on the “Superweeds” Wake Up Call in the New York Times

by Charles Benbrook | Sep 1st, 2021
by Charles Benbrook | Sep 1st, 2021
This corn field is overrun with resistant weeds.

In the mid-1980s when I was the Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), I had the privilege of working with some of the nation’s top weed scientists who had already become concerned over excessive use of herbicides. They wrote the weed management chapter in the 1986 NAS book Pesticide Resistance: Strategies and Tactics for Management.

The scientists, including some working with herbicide manufacturers, explained how excessive use of herbicides can trigger genetic changes in weed populations that, over time, will lead to weeds resistant to once-effective herbicides. They also wrote about the collateral damage imposed on farmers, rural communities, the environment and public health when resistant weeds get a firm foothold in farm fields. The book also laid out what farmers and industry must do to prevent the spread of resistant weeds.

But then along came a technology that turned one of the farmers’ most difficult challenges (weed management) into one of the simplest. The first GMO “Roundup Ready” crops hit the market in 1996. Resistant weed management practices were largely ignored right when most urgently needed.

This in-depth piece in the New York Time Magazine tells the story of the rise of resistant weeds. (We highly recommend listening to the excellent audio version that NYT Mag provides.)

Within just a few years, excessive Roundup use triggered emergence of the first glyphosate-resistant weeds. The eye-opening August 21, 2021 expose by H. Claire Jones published in the New York Times explains what happened next: “Attack of the Superweeds: Herbicides are losing the war — and agriculture might never be the same again.”

Within just a few years, glyphosate-based herbicides came to dominate both the corn and soybean herbicide market. This created a perfect storm leading to today’s superweeds: a system fully dependent on herbicides in both crops, and even worse, just one herbicide, glyphosate.

By 2001 tens of thousands of fields had been sprayed six to eight times with Roundup and essentially no other herbicides, and the first glyphosate-resistant weeds started their journey to superweed status. The sad part of this saga is that these problems were predicted accurately by several well-respected scientists and could have been avoided through adherence to the commonsense weed resistance-management practices recommended in the 1986 NAS report.

The rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds. Source:

But the industry told farmers and academic weed scientists not to worry, that resistance would not occur despite heavy reliance on glyphosate. Roundup Ready gained near-complete adoption on conventional corn, soybean and cotton farms by the mid-2000s, with not even a nod to the need for resistance management practices. This created a Covid-19 analogue in the world of weed management: palmer amaranth superweeds resistant to about every chemistry in the herbicide toolkit.

The pesticide-seed industry created this problem and refused to acknowledge it. They fought good-faith efforts to deal with it by university weed scientists, some companies and farmers. The industry used its market power and political clout to sustain a business model very good for its bottom line — but bad for just about everyone else.

As the NY Times “Superweed” piece explains, now it’s the farmers who are paying the piper for believing two key industry talking points. First, planting these herbicide-dependent GMO crops was and remains the epitome of “modern farming.” Second, glyphosate would not trigger resistance in weeds because of its complex mode of action, the mechanism whereby a pesticide kills or controls its target.

Despite the huge increase in seed-plus-herbicide costs and clearly worsening problems with resistant weeds, most large-scale farmers still believe the industry has their back. They believe the industry is developing new technologies that will help them spray their way out of the box canyon that now surrounds them.

This is why the weed scientists quoted in the superweeds story are likely right in predicting that this problem is going to get worse before farmers are willing and able to make the systemic changes needed to curtail it.

We started HHRA’s flagship project, The Heartland Study, because we knew the superweeds were coming to the Midwest. We wanted to determine whether rising herbicide use and exposures in the Heartland are contributing to more frequent or serious complications in pregnancy and children’s development. We hope not — but if true, preserving the intelligence and good health of the next generation of children born in the Midwest will be another reason to help farmers find ways off of the herbicide treadmill.

There is one reason for optimism. The changes in farming systems needed to lighten reliance on herbicides are closely aligned with those needed to restore soil health and capture and hold carbon in the soil. These changes are now deemed important enough in Washington DC to justify changes in farm policy and public and private investments in order to slow global warming and mitigate the costs of climate change.

HHRA will be sharing its science and adding its voice to those hoping to accelerate positive farming system changes for both the climate and farmers dealing with each year’s new crop of weeds, super or not.

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