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  • 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.

  • Europe is Growing Organic Production, Will the US Follow Suit?

    Advocates calling for change in US Ag Inc often struggle to point to successful models through which farming and food chains have evolved toward safer and more sustainable production systems. The surest way to largely eliminate the impacts of prenatal pesticide exposure on birth outcomes and children’s development – HHRA’s foundational goals – is converting US farmland to organic production. We are often asked how such change can come about. Convincing answers to this key and important question are few and far between in the US, but some key lessons are emerging from efforts in Europe to expand organic farming and food supply chains. The Cilento organic food bio-district in Italy was established in 2009 and is thought to be the first-ever in the world. Overcoming challenges faced by organic farmers in marketing their produce was a primary driver. Municipal actions expanded demand for organic food and ingredients via public food-purchasing programs. The lure of scenic rural landscapes and strong support from the agrotourism industry for organic food and farming created new market demand. Today, organic farming is thriving in the Cilento district, profit margins have expanded, and enhanced soil health is supporting higher yields at lower costs on many farms. An action by a city council led to the formation of the Södertälje organic food system in east-central Sweden, some 35 kilometers from Stockholm. The goal was to expand the supply of organic products for public food-procurement programs as a way to advance health and environmental quality. The municipality’s Diet Union developed new food products and recipes in the context of a “Diet for a clean Baltic” to promote health and reduce food waste. Restaurants and cafeterias began using smaller plates to cut down on waste, an intervention that has proven to be surprisingly effective. In south-eastern France the mad cow disease outbreak across Europe was the trigger of action leading to the Mouans-Sartoux organic food system. The initial focus was on supplying organic beef to school canteens, coupled with municipal government support for regional sustainable farm research and food education programs. A multi-faceted effort to provide organic food to children led to greater awareness of the diversity of benefits arising from organic farming. New efforts emerged to reach other vulnerable segments of the population with organic food (e.g. the elderly, pregnant women). These three region-based organic food systems in Europe are case studies in a just-published paper by Lilliana Stefanovic (2020), a scientist in the Department of Organic Food Quality and Food Culture at the University of Kessel in Germany. Imagine that. An academic department focused on organic food quality and culture. How long might it take for such a department to take hold at Iowa State University, in the heart of American farm country? The Stefanovic paper addresses how local organic food systems in Europe can contribute in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set forth by the United Nations, and especially SDG 12, “responsible consumption and production.” Her analysis concludes that local and place-based organic food and farming districts can make important contributions in transforming food and farming systems to promote human and animal health, and soil health and environmental quality. Two drivers played key roles in all three case studies: relatively short distances to population centers, and significant support for organic supply chains from public food-procurement programs, and especially those feeding children. And just a few months ago, the Italian government pledged to invest 3 billion euros (about $3 billion US) to convert at least 25% of the country’s farmland to organic systems by 2027. The funds will come from Common Agricultural Policy payments supported in part by a tax on pesticide sales. There are about 16.6 million acres of arable land in Italy. Reaching the 25% organic goal would entail the transition of around 2 million more acres to organic, given that a little over 15% of Italian farmland is already managed organically. If $3 billion in transition payments were spread over 2 million acres, average payments would be around $1,500 per acre. A multi-pronged effort in Italy is planned to simultaneously grow the supply of organic foods and demand for them. Investments will be made in the infrastructure needed to support profitable regional organic food supply chains, while increasing the supply of value-added, premium foods for sale throughout Italy, Europe, and for a few commodities (especially olive oil), the world. Such bold pledges and audacious goals have come and gone in many countries with little concrete and sustained change to show for the resources invested. But perhaps the time is right in Italy for acceleration in the transition to organic farming in light of the many scientific studies showing that organic farming can both slow global warming and render farms more resilient in the face of drought and flooding. What about here in the USA? The USDA has recently pledged to invest $300 million in a new Organic Transition Initiative. This program will provide new funding via many USDA-program channels to encourage the transition of farms to organic production. While a major increase in USDA funding dedicated to expanding organic production, $300 million over several years is a small share of the approximate $20 billion in annual federal spending on farm commodity and crop insurance programs. It is also instructive to compare the $3 billion investment in Italy to reach their goal of 25% of farmland in organic by 2027 to the $300 million investment just announced by USDA. The Italian program, if it actually happens, would provide about $1,500 per acre transitioned to organic. The USDA’s investment of $300 million translates into about $4.30 per acre across the approximate 70 million newly transitioned acres necessary for 25% of the US cropland base to be managed organically. Current disparity in public support for and investment in the transition to organic farming in the US versus Europe arises from vastly different public awareness of the benefits likely to stem from the transition of more farmland to organic production. Many public and private institutions […]

HHRA’s Accomplishments in 2022

Jan 4th, 2023
Happy New Year!

As 2022 comes to a close, HHRA is happy to report progress on all fronts. We share some highlights from 2022 and describe what we hope to accomplish in 2023-2025.


A New Mission and VisionAs a part of our strategic planning efforts, HHRA developed new mission and vision statements. HHRA strives to fulfill its mission:

(1) by engaging scientists and clinicians in public-health centric research that is both critical and underfunded, (2) by creating new tools and analytical systems that lower the cost and accelerate the pace of scientific progress, and (3) via outreach, education, and public policy initiatives that draw upon new science to leverage constructive change.


Our flagship project – The Heartland Study – is taking off.  The study has now enrolled almost 400 mother-infant pairs and hundreds of urine samples have already been tested for herbicides. We also started enrolling biological fathers in 2022, which allows us to explore how dad’s pesticide exposures can impact pregnancy and children’s development.

Expanding our efforts…

In 2022 the Heartland Study brought on a new research site at Gundersen Hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin and we hope to soon announce another new study site. Both new sites will begin MIP enrollments early in 2023. We are on track to reach the Heartland Study’s initial goal of enrolling 2,000 MIPs into the Phase 1 protocol by early 2025.


HHRA is working to develop more accurate and cost-effective methods to analyze human exposure to pesticides, including herbicides.
HHRA is working to develop more accurate and cost-effective methods to analyze human exposure to pesticides, including herbicides.

Our relationship with the Center for Toxicological Research (CTQ) in Quebec, Canada is flourishing. The CTQ team is conducting all HS urine testing for herbicides using CTQ’s two state-of-the-art methods. One method detects glyphosate and its primary metabolite AMPA, as well as glufosinate and its primary metabolite 3-MPPA.

The second, multi-analyte method used by CTQ was developed at the request of HHRA. It detects 13 pesticide analytes including two Heartland Study priorities: the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba. We have run close to 800 samples of urine from pregnant women through one or both of these methods and are building by far the largest contemporary biomonitoring dataset of its kind. Plus, the new method developed by CTQ with funding from HHRA will be accessible to other research teams and governments around the world.


The Dietary Risk Index (DRI) analytical system helps us track pesticide exposures from the diet.
The Dietary Risk Index (DRI) analytical system helps us track pesticide exposures from the diet.

HHRA has worked for three years to expand, refine, and move the DRI analytical system onto the HHRA website. The move was completed at the end of 2022. The DRI translates data on residues in food into risk metrics relative to regulator-set maximum allowed daily intakes of specific pesticides.

There is no system with comparable capabilities in use anywhere in the world. Access the description of the DRI and information on data sources and methodology here. The interactive tables are accessible here .


Public Health Conferences

In May and November, 2022 HHRA sponsored panels at the annual meetings of the Iowa Public Health Association in Ames and the American Public Health Association in Boston. In Iowa we organized two 90-minutes sessions, had a booth, and sponsored a reception.

HHRA presenting at the APHA conference in Boston
HHRA presenting at the APHA conference in Boston

Our November session at the APHA conference included presentations by a stellar, international team of scientists. Dr. Landrigan’s talk included important preliminary findings of HHRA’s testing of urine samples for the herbicides dicamba and 2,4-D.

Heartland Stories Radio

Our team at the Heartland Stories Radio and Podcast works hard to bring together diverse voices to tell important stories in food, farming, and public health innovation. We now have over 100 episodes! Help us continue growing our audience by subscribing to our new HSR email blasts, where we will send biweekly emails highlighting interviews with top experts, pioneers, innovators, and changemakers in agriculture, food, and public health. Subscribe here.

HHRA’s Public Policy Advisory Committee

In 2022 we authored and submitted three sets of comments to government agencies in response to requests for public comment.

New Papers Published in 2022


We carry considerable momentum into 2023 and hope to triple our monthly rate of mother-infant pair enrollments by early 2024. But to do so we also have to broaden our donor pool and accelerate fundraising. Please consider making a donation, subscribing to our newsletter, and following HHRA on social media!

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