The first recipient of The Organic Center’s newly established Award of Excellence will be recognized in March at the organization’s annual VIP Dinner held in conjunction with Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif.
Dr. Charles Benbrook, who currently is a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, has been selected to receive the award designed to honor an individual who has shown excellence in supporting the science behind the benefits of organic food and farming. At Washington State University, he serves as program leader of “Measure to Manage: Farm and Food Diagnostics for Sustainability and Health.” Prior to that post, Dr. Benbrook served as The Center’s original chief scientist, and currently is a member of its Science Advisory Board.
“Because of his extensive experience and background, Dr. Benbrook is well respected and knowledgeable about diverse agricultural system, and thus his research provides credible science highlighting the value and benefits of organic practices versus non-organic production,” Todd Linsky, chair of The Center’s Board of Trustees, said in announcing the award selection. He added, “We at The Center are delighted that he will be the first recipient of our new award.”
Over the years, Dr. Benbrook’s career has focused on developing science-based systems for evaluating the public health, environmental, and economic impacts of changes in agricultural systems, biotechnology, and policy. He has worked extensively on pesticide use and risk assessment, and the development of bio-intensive Integrated Pest Management. He also played an important role in the evolution of the 1996 “Food Quality Protection Act.”
Most recently, he has authored two research articles in peer-reviewed publications that have garnered much attention and acclaim, advancing organic agriculture, and shedding light on the increased use of pesticides in the United States due to genetically engineered crops.
The first was published in December 2013 in PLOS One, one of the top three general science journals in the world. It showed that organic milk has a healthier nutritional profile than conventional milk. In the study, a research team led by Dr. Benbrook examined 220 organic and 164 conventional milk samples from dairies across the nation over an 18-month period. The team found that organic whole milk contained significantly higher concentrations of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids compared to milk from cows on conventionally managed dairy farms. In fact, milk from organic dairies contained 62 percent more omega-3 fatty acids and 18% more Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), another fatty acid that promotes heart health. In addition, organic milk contained 25 percent lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids than conventional milk, a nutritional advantage since omega-6 fatty acids can be converted to pro-inflammatory compounds that increase the risk of heart disease.
“The recent research by Dr. Benbrook and his colleagues provides the strongest evidence to date that milk from cows raised on pasture grasses and legumes on certified organic farms provides more omega-3 fatty acids and improves the overall heart health profile of fatty acids in our diet. Importantly, these results make especially clear that women of childbearing age can directly benefit their babies during pregnancy and lactation by ensuring adequate intake of these essential fatty acids from organic milk,” said Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, Director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University.
The second, published Sept. 28, 2012, in Environmental Sciences Europe, found that the use of herbicides in the production of three genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops—cotton, soybeans and corn—has actually increased substantially in the U.S. In fact, Dr. Benbrook found, resistant weeds have become a major problem for many U.S. farmers reliant on genetically engineered crops, with the result that the volume of herbicide needed per acre each year has been going up steadily over the past decade. As resistant weeds emerge and spread in the Corn Belt, the annual increase in herbicide applications per acre will inevitably accelerate further.
Dr. Benbrook will receive the award at The Center’s VIP Dinner to be held the evening of March 7 at the Anaheim Hilton. The program will also include the accomplishments of The Center during the past year, and its vision for the future.