Chuck Benbrook

Reflections on the Science Breakthrough of the Year

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 27, 2014

Science MagazineIn its December 20, 2013 issue, the journal Science identified cancer immunotherapy as the science breakthrough of the year.  An editorial by the journal’s Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt explains the basis for the selection.

She notes that the war on cancer started 40 years ago and has had great success in treating some cancers, while others remain difficult to effectively combat. She also explains that as the baby boomer generation ages, cancer incidence, morbidity, and mortality will almost assuredly increase – hence the need for new tools. Read more »

Do Farm Bills Drive or Deter Change?

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 5, 2014

Farm bills over the last forty years have shaped today’s agriculture systems and technology.  They have done so by setting the “rules of the road” and defining or shaping research and investment priorities.

The new farm bill provides farmers, agribusiness, rural communities, and the food industry a more stable policy framework in which to make investment and planting decisions.  But my sense is this farm bill could mark a historically significant inflection point. Farm bills since the 1970s have tried to become more market-driven, by lessening the impact of USDA farm programs on the choices made by farmers.  Read more »

New Insights Gained into the Role of Dairy Products in Promoting Healthier Diets

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | December 9, 2013

Dozens of studies, most of them conducted in Europe, have shown higher levels of health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk compared to conventional milk, as well as lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids.  The National Institutes of Health, in a factsheet on omega-3 fatty acids, reports that:

“Most American diets provide more than 10 times as much omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. There is general agreement that individuals should consume more omega-3 and less omega-6 fatty acids to promote good health.”

Read more »

Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming
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A Sobering Reminder of the Importance of Dietary Choice

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | July 16, 2013

A growing number of Americans are learning that doctors don’t have miracle cures for all that ails us.  The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington has just released chilling data on the burden of disease in America, the driving forces behind disease and ill health, and modifiable risk factors for contemporary health problems.

Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Food Systems, Nutrition
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More Independent Science Must be Part of Regaining Public Confidence in GE Food Technology

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | July 2, 2013

The finding of some Roundup Ready (RR) wheat plants in an eastern Oregon field must leave some PNW wheat growers feeling snakebit, since they decided a decade ago to oppose the commercialization of RR wheat until the technology is fully approved and accepted by consumers, both here and abroad.  While this episode has disrupted trade flows and will undoubtedly increase wheat industry testing costs for the foreseeable future, some good could come from it if it triggers a fresh look at why skepticism and/or opposition to genetically engineered (GE) foods is growing in the U.S.  The fate of many new GE crops hangs in the balance, including Simplot’s new potato technology that reduces levels of the known human carcinogen acrylamide. Read more »

A Tale of Two Tomatoes

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | February 23, 2013

A flurry of studies in recent years has reported that organic fruits and vegetables are, on average, more nutritious than conventional foods, while another flurry has reported little or no nutritional difference.  While most review articles and meta-analysis conclude that Vitamin C, phenolic acids, antioxidant, and some mineral levels are typically higher in organically grown produce, the levels of some other nutrients are often higher in conventional food (e.g., protein, Vitamin A).  Opinions vary widely on whether the typically small incremental differences in nutrients between organic and conventional foods are biologically meaningful.

Read more »

Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming, Sustainability
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Toward an “Innovative Ecosystem” for Ag Research

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | December 13, 2012

On December 7, 2012 the President’s Council on Science and Technology released a report on the health of the nation’s agricultural research enterprise.  It is a remarkable document that deserves close attention and a central place in the ongoing debate over where and how to deploy science and technology in advancing progress in the food and agricultural sectors. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability
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Impacts of Organic Food on Infants and Children – The AAP Weighs In

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | October 22, 2012

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy paper entitled “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages” on October 22, 2012.  It is slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Pediatrics.  This new review comes on the heels of a September, 2012 meta-analysis by a team of physicians at Stanford University, which stirred up substantial commentary, and badly needed discussion among scientists of appropriate methods to carry out such reviews (e.g., see my September 4 post, and letters to the editor of “The Annals of Internal Medicine,” especially the excellent letter from WSU colleague Dr. Preston Andrews). Read more »

Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming, Toxics
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Hard lessons emerge from new study on the impacts of GE crops on pesticide use

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | October 2, 2012

I have worked for many years on pesticide use, risks, and regulation, as well as the design, implementation, and benefits of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) systems.  Given that all of the commercially significant, first-generation traits in genetically engineered (GE) crops are related to pest management, the real-world impacts of GE crops on pesticide use has always been on my radar screen.

I started tracking the development of herbicide-tolerant technology in the late 1980s during my tenure as the Executive Director of the NAS Board on Agriculture (1984-1990).  Even back then, years before the technology’s commercial launch in 1996, weed management experts were expressing concern that glyphosate-tolerant, Roundup Ready (RR) crops could lead to the emergence of resistant weeds.  Read more »

The Devil in the Details

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | September 4, 2012

A comprehensive paper on the nutritional quality and safety of conventional versus organic food was published in the September 4, 2012 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine (Smith-Spangler et al., Vol. 157, Number 5: pages 349–369). The Stanford University Medical School team concluded that:

“The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”

“Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

Their analysis loosely supports these conclusions, but many devils lurk in the statistical details underlying this study’s findings. For details, see the technical review of the Stanford study. Read more »

Filed under Nutrition, Organic Farming, Toxics
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Contact Chuck Benbrook

Email: cbenbrook@wsu.edu