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  • 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.

Challenges Ahead in Implementing Policies to Promote Soil Health

Apr 17th, 2023

By: David R. Montgomery, Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington Seattle

By: Chuck Benbrook, Executive Director, HHRA

An international team of scientists published a January 6, 2023 Policy Forum piece in Science entitled “Soil biodiversity needs policy without borders“. It makes a strong case for new laws and mechanisms to restore above and below ground  biodiversity in order to enhance soil health, but falls short in laying out the pragmatic changes in farming and ranching systems that will be required to do so and measure progress.

Rebuilding soil health will require diversifying cropping patterns, re-integrating crop and livestock farming, transitioning ruminants and pigs from heavy reliance on grain and oilseed concentrates to more forage-based rations, reducing tillage, altering plant nutrient cycles in ways that lessen the need for concentrated fertilizers, and lessening reliance on pesticides, especially those that degrade soil health.

These sort of systemic changes in farming systems have been recommended for decades while other factors, new technology, and policy have pushed farmers in different directions. Until recently soil health was not on conventional ag’s radar, which is why serious discussions and efforts centered on how to define soil health and measure where a given field stands along the soil-health continuum have only recently begun.

For many reasons measuring progress in enhancing soil health is becoming more important. It would make sense, for example, to stop or minimize practices that reliably undermine it, yet good luck finding agreement on the systems, practices and technology that belong on the list. Also, knowing how to establish soil health baselines and measure progress seems like essential pieces of the puzzle in light of the billions of dollars now flowing and pledged by public and private entities with the goal of sequestering more carbon in the soil and promoting “climate-smart farming.”

Soil health is highly variable across landscapes, including in individual fields. Common soil health metrics change from spring through winter. How soil samples are taken can impact lab test results. Last year’s crop and current year weather affect soil health metrics.

Taking into account all the dynamic factors impacting soil health is a big challenge. The sample collection and analytical work needed to accurately measure soil health will be costly and controversial, especially if payments are linked solely or primarily to measured “improvements” in soil health.

Fortunately there are simple year-to-year metrics that can be used to link and calibrate payments to efforts to enhance soil health. These include the percent of the growing season in a region during which green and growing plants cover fields, the percent of nitrogen derived from sources other than fertilizers brought onto a farm, how fast rainfall infiltrates soil, and the presence of soil-borne pests at economically damaging levels, especially pests resistant to common control measures.

Instead of tying public and private payment rates directly to problematic measures of soil carbon and/or soil health, payments should target farming system changes known to build soil health. These include the combination or minimizing chemical and physical disturbance and adopting cover crops and diverse crop rotations.

Periodic and in-depth surveys of longer-run changes in soil health and carbon sequestration on representative farms can validate program effectiveness and identify needed refinements. Supporting proven soil health practices in conjunction with systematic appraisal of long-term trends are the best way to promote above and below-ground biodiversity and incrementally restore soil health. And progress is restoring soil health is a necessary step in producing healthier plants and foods, and animals and people.

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