Biotech Gallery

Charles Benbrook: Former Washington State adjunct consultant for organic industry

Last Updated: August 10, 2016

Charles Benbrook archives

Keywords: Charles Benbrook, Chuck Benbrook


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Anti-biotech hidden agenda: Link GMO feed to conventional dairy products to scare adoption of organics

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Documents uncover secret coordination among 'independent' anti-biotech scientists, activists

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Emails reveal activists' role in changing Whole Foods' 'Responsibly Grown' standards

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Standing by nutrition research, Iowa State will test golden banana, defying Catch-22 protests

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Claims of nutritional superiority of organic milk, meat challenged by scientists

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As Chipotle struggles with poisoning crisis, it's under fire for GMO and sustainability claims

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Glyphosate-GMO debate sparks relook at eco-benefits of no till farming: Does hype match reality?

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Scientist for hire: UK's David Goulson produces pre-determined pesticide research for activist funders?

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Am I hurting my child feeding him GMOs? From mommy guilt to mommy outrage

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New England Journal of Medicine ignored Chuck Benbrook's failure to disclose organic conflicts of interests

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FOIA emails reveal anti-GMO, pro-organic spin 'A team' led by Tom Philpott and Michael Pollan

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FOIA: Organic industry, Chuck Benbrook orchestrated anti-GMO "independent" research, marketing

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FOIA: For $100,00, Charles Benbrook offered to "ramrod" "independent" anti-GMO research for Australian activists

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 3.57.51 PM
Name
Charles Benbrook
Birth date
1949/11/26
Birth place
Los Angeles, California
Residence
Troy, Oregon
Nationality
USA
Education
Ph.D., Agricultural Economics, Univ Wisconsin (1980)
Occupation
Organic Consultant, Activist

Charles “Chuck” Benbrook (born 1949) is an organic proponent, organic industry consultant and paid “expert witness”[1] on pesticide and GMO-related lawsuits,[2] Benbrook is trained as an agricultural economist. He has developed analytical systems he uses to quantify food quality and safety, and the impacts of agricultural technology and policy. He has re-analyzed government reports to suggest that there are high risks associated with GMOs, pesticide use and residue levels.

Benbrook was formerly the research director of The Organic Center, which is funded by the organic industry and is now officially part of the Organic Trade Association. His three year affiliation with the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR) at Washington State University (WSU), which was funded entirely by organic industry contributions (see below), ended on May 15, 2015 when his contract was not extended. He is now no longer with CSANR.

After he was severed from WSU, Benbrook continued to represent himself as a “research professor,” and was represented that way by reporters, such as Carey Gillam (then with Reuters and more recently as an editor with the anti-GMO organic funded US Right to Know), when writing about a  commentary on GMOs co-written by Benbrook in the New England Journal of Medicine. Benbrook publicly maintained, including in COI statements to the NEJM, that he had no conflicts of interests despite extensive documentation that his entire research efforts at WSU were 100 percent funded by the organic industry (not disclosed to NEJM, see below, Misrepresentations, for an analysis of Benbrook’s claims about his employment situation and in Conflict of Interest representations to NEJM) and that he was (and remains) a paid consultant for organic industry lobby groups and anti-GMO organizations.

The New York Times has released a trove of Benbrook’s emails secured in a FOIA request, documenting his organic industry funding and his close ties to anti-GMO activists and journalists, including Robyn O’Brien, who bills herself as the food world’s Erin Brokovich.

A separate FOIA led to the release of more of Benbrook’s emails, available here, which reaffirms his close ties to the industry that has bankrolled him for more than a decade. It includes his demands for financial support for ‘research on request.’ The emails also reveal the close ties of Benbrook and other anti-GMO campaigners, such as the GMO labeling lobbyists, with journalists unstintingly critical of GMOs, such as Michael Pollan and Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott, who appear to coordinate their article strategies and Internet presence with notable advocacy groups and quack alternative health providers.

Claims of increase chemical usage

Publishing in a predatory pay-for-play journal, Benbrook claimed that the use of GMO crops had “backfired” and resulted in unsustainable massive increased in herbicide use[3]. He also claimed that organic crops have equivalent or better yields than conventional and GMO counterparts and that organic foods are safer and more nutritious. He attacked and dismissed scientific research claims which conflict with his views as either tainted by industry funding or as making “rookie mistakes” as he characterized the Stanford University meta analysis of claims organic foods are no safer or nutritious than conventional counterparts.

In a 2010 speech quoted by the Economist, Benbrook asked a series of questions he claims should be used to determine whether or not biotechnology enhanced crops can be seen as a component of sustainable agriculture. He stated “It is hard to get to ‘Yes’, biotech and sustainable agriculture go together, with one neutral and three ‘No’ answers to the above questions.”

Benbrook had joined CSANR as a “research professor” (see reference for description)[4] in August, 2012. He served as the leader of the CSANR program called Measure to Manage (M2M): Farm and Food Diagnostics for Sustainability and Health (M2M). The stated goal of M2M is to develop, refine, validate, and apply analytical systems quantifying the impacts of farming systems, technology, and policy on food nutritional quality, food safety, agricultural productivity, economic performance along food value chains, and on natural resources and the environment.

The M2M program was funded entirely by the organic industry with no funding support from any independent or university sources. According to the CSANR website, but since removed [but available here]:

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Initial start-up funding for the M2M program have been provided by United Natural Foods, Whole Foods, Organic Valley/CROPP, and Stonyfield. In addition, the Clif Bar Family Foundation has provided a generous three-year, $250,000 grant to support the dissemination of analytical systems and results via the M2M website.

Work on calculating the embedded attributes of food products has been advanced by a $25,000 gift grant from Annie’s, a company working to quantify the benefits stemming from its purchase of a wide range of organic ingredients.

Research

Benbrook’s best-known study, published in 2012, concluded that genetically modified foods have resulted in increased pesticide use, purportedly because weeds are developing resistance to glyphosate. The study was widely criticized in the mainstream science community because he used subjective estimates of herbicide usage by relying on data he crunched from the US National Agricultural Statistics Service, which didn’t differentiate between GM and non-GM crops, did not take into account the fact that glyphosate is less toxic than the herbicides it has replaced, thus the net toxicity of herbicide use had decreased even as the total herbicide use increased. Graham Brookes of PG Economics published a peer reviewed report earlier that year that reached a far different conclusion: GM crops may actually have reduced worldwide pesticide use by 9.1 per cent. However, the Benbrook study is still widely circulated on anti-GMO websites as fact.

In December 2013, Benbrook was the lead author of a study claiming that organic milk contained significantly higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The study was funded in part by the organic milk producer Organic Valley, and was sharply criticized for faulty assumptions and analysis. In July 2014, Benbrook was co-author of a meta-analysis of 343 studies examining the nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food. It concluded that organic food had higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of cadmium than did conventional food.

Benbrook and co-author epidemiologist and pediatrician Philip Landrigan wrote a commentary, “GMOS, Herbicides and Public Health,” in the New England Journal of Medicine released August 19, 2015, calling for a global reconsideration of the safety of plant biotechnology due to their concerns over the impact of herbicides on public health. Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center, has long maintained that “toxic chemicals” are silently damaging children around the world. The authors based their current argument upon the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)’s controversial classification of glyphosate as a ‘probable’ carcinogen and of 2,4-D as a ‘possible’ carcinogen, along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to approve Enlist Duo, a herbicide comprising glyphosate and 2,4-D designed to be used with herbicide resistant, genetically engineered crops

Independent scientists were sharply critical of the NEJM commentary. (See Genetic Experts News Service–GENeS–for more detailed analysis)

  • Dr. Dave Stone, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Oregon State University

While it is important to pursue advances in how we assess and manage risk, it is equally important to avoid representations that use inflammatory language, are devoid of context and cause undue alarm. Unfortunately, the latter is the case with the recent commentary by Landrigan and Benbrook who cite Agent Orange, Monarch butterflies, and endocrine disruption to support labeling of genetically modified foods and distort the risk posed by plant biotechnology.

One of Landrigan and Benbrook’s central arguments is that the GMO landscape has changed as a result of the noted increase in herbicide applications to genetically modified (GM) crops. While this increase raises some key issues, such as weed resistance, the commentary suggests implications to consumers and public health that are unwarranted.  Whether or not a pesticide is used in conventional or GM crops, the level of acceptable residue on a commodity, known as a tolerance, is set to protect us from harm. Year after year, residues in our food supply have been measured at trace levels that are far below what is required to result in clinically relevant effects.

  • Dr. Jeff Wolt, Professor of Agronomy & Toxicology, Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products, Iowa State University

In their piece, Landrigan and Benbrook present a laundry list of familiar misperceptions of modern crop production. Through the lens of their perspective, the public gains a distorted view of the safety of biotechnology crops and pesticides; and of the immense contributions of agriculture to public health in the United States by assuring a safe and abundant food supply.

The authors’ statements regarding findings of the NAS 2000 and 2004 reports are misleading both in terms of what these reports state and the progress that is being made.

The IARC findings of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen and 2,4-D as a possible carcinogen signal the need for vigilance concerning their use, but say nothing regarding risk to human health. EPA and other regulatory authorities conduct a more holistic appraisal of pesticides which considers a wider array of toxicity information as well as exposure characterization to arrive at an understanding of risk of the chemicals under actual use conditions. It is these regulatory risk assessments that support the safe use of glyphosate and 2,4-D in agriculture. EPA shows appropriate vigilance in assuring safety of our food supply through periodic reappraisal of pesticides and is currently undertaking just such an assessment for glyphosate.

  • Dr. Andrew Kniss, Associate Professor, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Wyoming

Dr. Landrigan and Dr. Benbrook cite glyphosate-resistant weeds as a primary reason why “fields must now be treated with multiple herbicides.” … [G]lyphosate-resistant weeds may certainly have increased the number of herbicides used per acre compared to 5 years ago, but the change has been relatively modest when compared to herbicide use before the adoption of GMO crops.

Dr. Landrigan and Dr. Benbrook also make several misleading statements, including that the Enlist Duo registration decision by EPA “failed to consider ecologic impact, such as effects on the monarch butterfly and other pollinators.” The EPA provides all relevant regulatory decision information on its website, including the environmental risk assessment documents. Just one of the risk assessment documents for Enlist Duo contains over 100 pages of ‘ecologic impact’ data and interpretation, including environmental fate, degradation, aquatic and terrestrial organism toxicity and exposure estimates. The EPA also explicitly addresses how Enlist Duo will affect pollinators on an FAQ page dedicated to the Enlist Duo registration.

Another misleading statement made by Dr. Landrigan and Dr. Benbrook is that the “risk assessment gave little consideration to potential health effects in infants and children, thus contravening federal pesticide law.” This claim was also addressed explicitly by EPA in the FAQ document. EPA concluded that after incorporating a 10X safety factor for children, and based on a “complete and very robust” data set, that the “risks were still acceptable for all age groups for all components of the assessment: dietary food and drinking water exposure, volatility, spray drift, residential, and aggregate assessment.

Misrepresentations on Conflict of Interest

Both Benbrook and Landrigan may have misrepresented themselves as to potential conflicts of interest in their New England Journal of Medicine article. Benbrook represented he was affiliated with Washington State University when he submitted his current article. But an official at WSU said he was no longer with the university as of May 2015, before his NEJM article was finalized. Other misrepresentations may have come in response to NEJM questions about potential conflicts of interest:

Did you or your institution at any time receive payment or services from a third party (government, commercial, private foundation, etc.) for any aspect of the submitted work (including but not limited to grants, data monitoring board, study design, manuscript preparation, statistical analysis, etc.)?

Answer NO                

100 percent of Benbrook’s funding at his institution was from organic industry commercial interests, which benefit from disparaging the safety of GMOs and pesticides.

Place a check in the appropriate boxes in the table to indicate whether you have financial relationships (regardless of amount of compensation) with entities as described in the instructions. Use one line for each entity; add as many lines as you need by clicking the “Add +” box. You should report relationships that were present during the 36 months prior to publication. 

Answer NO

Benbrook is a consultant to commercial interests, including Whole Foods Market and litigators with current cases pending against GMO and pesticide companies, which claim and profit from claims that GMOs and pesticides are unsafe

Are there other relationships or activities that readers could perceive to have influenced, or that give the appearance of potentially influencing, what you wrote in the submitted work? 

Answer NO

Both Benbrook and Landrigan are board members, advisors and/or paid consultants to numerous organic activist groups and organizations.

Benbrook amended his conflict of interest answers on August 27, but they continue to be inaccurate. He continues to state that he had no “financial relationships” with organizations that might have a vested interest in his work [e.g. defined by NEJM as: “financial relationships with entities in the bio-medical arena that could be perceived to influence, or that give the appearance of potentially influencing, what you wrote in the submitted work. You should disclose interactions with ANY entity that could be considered broadly relevant to the work”.

Benbrook was and is a paid consultant to the organic industry, including Whole Foods, and 100% of the funds that supported his since severed project at Washington Sate University were supplied by the organic industry–according to the disclosure on the WSU website (since removed by WSU but displayed above and available here). Note that NEJM states that submitting authors are required to report any “relationships or activities that readers could perceive to have influenced, or that give the appearance of potentially influencing, what you wrote in the submitted work.”

Career

Charles Benbrook joined CSANR as a “research professor” (see reference for description)[4] in August, 2012. He serves as the leader of the new solely organic industry funded CSANR program called Measure to Manage (M2M): Farm and Food Diagnostics for Sustainability and Health (M2M). The stated goal of M2M is to develop, refine, validate, and apply analytical systems quantifying the impacts of farming systems, technology, and policy on food nutritional quality, food safety, agricultural productivity, economic performance along food value chains, and on natural resources and the environment.

Benbrook has a PhD in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. Until May, he held an adjunct faculty position in the Crop and Soil Sciences Department, Washington State University. His affiliations and publications all have a decidedly anti-biotechnology, pro-organic slant. In a 2009 interview with the Economist, Benbrook asked a series of questions he claims should be used to determine whether or not biotechnology enhanced crops can be seen as a component of sustainable agriculture. He stated “It is hard to get to “Yes”, biotech and sustainable agriculture go together, with one neutral and three “No” answers to the above questions.”

Benbrook spent the first 18 years of his career working in Washington, D.C., first working for the Executive Office of the President (1979-1980), then as the Executive Director for a U.S. House of Representatives agricultural subcommittee (1981-1983). He was the ED of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture from 1984-1990, and has run his own consulting firm since 1991.

He moved to the west in 1997, and served as the Chief Scientist for The Organic Center from 2004 through June of 2012. He has participated as an expert witness in several lawsuits involving pesticides and agricultural biotechnology. Chuck Benbrook earned a B.A. degree in economics from Harvard University in 1971, and M.A. and PhD degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1979/1980.

Education

Benbrook has a PhD in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. He held an adjunct faculty position in the Crop and Soil Sciences Department, Washington State University until May 2015. His affiliations and publications all have a decidedly anti-biotechnology, pro-organic slant.

  • BA, Economics, Harvard (1971)
  • MA, Agricultural Economics, University of Wisconsin (1979)
  • PhD, Agricultural Economics, University of Wisconsin (1980)

Washington State University, Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR)

“Research” professor (August 16, 2012 – May 15, 2015) — Benbrook’s name has been scrubbed from the “people” section of the CSANR website. His name does not appear in any WSU offered course listings. CSANR officials say they are still in the process of transitioning his website and other resources, which by agreement must be completed by August 31.

Previously, as a “research professor”, Benbrook ran the M2M program within WSU CSANR group. His responsibilities were two fold: To boost faculty cadre actively working on organic agriculture at WSU and to establish a peer reviewed research framework for evaluating sustainability metrics, a rapidly growing driver in the organic marketplace. Funding for Benbrook’s M2M program did not come from the University but was provided by a set of organic industry donors with the intent that Benbrook would establish a base from which he could compete for competitive funding–that his work would stand up to scientific review. In the three years, all funding for his salary and program came from direct industry support provided by United Natural Foods, Whole Foods, Organic Valley/CROPP, and Stonyfield. In addition, the Clif Bar Family Foundation and Annie’s Organic.[5]

Benbrook’s three person staff included Donald R. Davis, PhD (part time), a retired former academic with the University of Texas and research consultant at an alternative medical clinic in Kansas; he was also a frequent speaker at alternative health and organic conferences.[6] And, Nicholas Potter, MS, who works on “data visualization” for web settings on pesticide risks.[7]. Karie Knoke, BS, a former computer consultant for a hearing aid company and health and personal care worker promoting “off the grid”[8] yurt dwellings and natural living from Sand Point, Idaho (Benbrook’s former hometown), provides data entry and interpretation support.[9] Knote is a former fisherwoman from Alaska who has done pesticide research for Consumers Union and advocated for “energy healing, astrology and the primitive arts.”[10]

Benbrook’s center at WSU appeared to be “virtual” as neither he nor any of his listed staff lived within 200 miles of the University campus and CSANR offices. The official mailing address for M2M is Benbrook’s personal residence in Enterprise, Oregon more than 375 miles from the CSANR offices and University of Washington campus. Computer expert Knote lives “off the grid” near San Point Idaho (220 miles from M2M and 365 miles from WSU campus), data visualization staffer Nicholas Potter resides in Spokane (290 miles from campus and 165 miles from the listed M2M offices). And Davis resides near Austin, Texas (1,800-2,100 miles from the respective locations).[11]

As part of his affiliation with The Organic Center (see below), also an industry funded and led organization now formally part of the Organic Trade Association, Benbrook directed tens of thousands of dollars in donations to Washington State University to support the development of organic farming research.[12] Pacific Natural Foods, a leading organic and anti-GMO food marketer,[13] also provided a $5 million grant to Washington State University in 2012 to support the creation of Benbrook’s organic research center.[14] No unniversity funds are publicly reported as directly supporting Benbrook’s M2M program.

The Organic Center (TOC)

Benbrook served as “chief scientist” for TOC from 2006-2012. TOC was an independent NGO laregly funded by the organic industry until 2011 when it formally merged with the Organic Trade Association. Benbrook led research to support organic agriculture via denigrating conventional agriculture, specifically developing research and public relations campaigns attacking the efficacy and safety of modern crop protection (pesticides) and plant biotechnology (GMOs).

Benbrook Consultant Services/AgBiotech-Info.net

From 1990 to present, Benbrook has served as a scientific and technical consultant to the organic food industry and organic-supporting advocacy groups. In this capacity he has also served as an expert witness for litigators (including The Center for Food Safety in pesticide and biotechnology-related cases suing the federal government and ag biotech companies. He also owned and ran the website and listserv Biotech Info Net (no longer active). Benbrook’s clients include national consumer and environmental groups, international organizations, companies, federal and state government agencies, trade associations, and academic research organizations.[15]

Most recently, Benbrook was a consultant to Whole Foods, which in a controversial decision launched a “Responsibly Grown” ratings system. It allowed the grocer to pick and choose within a list of agrichemicals it considered harmful and less harmful. Some organic products were rated as harmful under this system and some non-organic produce treated with certain chemicals, were listed as “best,” in many cases rating above certified organic fruits and vegetables. It has created a furor among organic purists.

National Research Council

From 1984 to 1990 Benbrook served as executive director for the Board of Agriculture. Benbrook claims he left this position because of his role directing and opposing the findings of a study on children and pesticides. However, according to a 1993 letter from National Academy of Sciences president Frank Press to documentary filmmaker Bill Moyers, Benbrook was asked to resign from this position following repeated violations of NAS guidelines regarding non-biased, non-partisan and professional science staff statements, well before the child pesticide study was completed. Press wrote:

The editing of the documentary will lead viewers to the erroneous conclusion that the employment of Charles Benbrook at the NAS-NRC was terminated as a result of his role as the director of the study on children and pesticides. This simply was not the case. The facts are that Mr. Benbrook was warned both orally and in writing on multiple occasions, long before the Landrigan committee began writing its report, that his public comments in speeches, testimony, and in print, on studies already completed and on other matters were inappropriate to his role as a member of the NRC professional staff. Indeed, in a letter of warning that I wrote to Mr. Benbrook on November 14, 1989, I stated that “the NRC corporate entity must be non-partisan, and professional staff statements should reflect views that have resulted from our process of balanced committee analysis and careful review. Your actions… do not conform to that process and you have been frequently advised to be more careful.” Mr. Benbrook chose subsequently to ignore the specific guidance contained in the letter and, after yet another such incident regarding a public statement he made on an unrelated matter, he was asked to resign one year later, when the children and pesticides study still was in an early stage of development.[16]

U.S. House Agriculture Committee

From 1981 t0 1984 Benbrook served as a sub-committee staff person to U.S. House of Representatives George E. Brown and Congressman Jim Weaver of Oregon.

Office of the President, Council of Environmental Quality

From December 1979 to March 1981 Benbrook served as an agricultural policy analyst.[17]

Advocacy

Benbrook actively advocates that GMOs can cause known allergies or post other safety challenges and pesticides are unsafe, unjust and unsustainable. He claims organic farming is a safer, healthier and superior system.

Benbrook has participated in numerous organic industry advocacy initiatives, conferences and petition campaigns opposing GMOs with groups including the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth and the Pesticide Action Network. Benbrook is a member of Bioneers and affiliated via his consulting with Consumers Union; other advocacy-consulting engagements include:

  • Western Organization of Resource Councils, co-author and research source for anti-biotechnology publications
  • Greenpeace – research consultant/source, event speaker for biotechnology related publications and events
  • Center for Food Safety/Andrew Kimbrell – research consultant/ source for biotechnology related litigation and publications
  • International Center for Technology Assessment/ Mark Ritchie – research consultant/ source for biotechnology related lobbying and publications
  • Just Label It campaign (Organic Voices 501c4 lobbying arm of organic companies)

Sample Quotes

  • “Biotechnology is not a system of farming. It reflects no specific philosophy nor is it guided by a set of principles or performance criteria. It is a bag of tools than can be used for good or evil, and lots in between.” The Economist, November 2009.
  • “Clearly the biotech industry will ultimately be held responsible for negative impacts of their technology. It may take lawsuits or class action lawsuits. The system has to change; it is unjust and not sustainable,” The Organic & Non-GMO Report, February 2011.
  • “There have been dramatic changes in the transgenic composition of GE corn and soybeans over the last five years, coupled with a substantial increase in reliance on pesticides and Bt toxins. Compared to the first five years of commercial use (1996-2000), today’s GE corn and soybeans in the U.S. require:
  • About twice as much herbicide per acre, with glyphosate/Roundup accounting for essentially all the growth;
  • In corn, two to six Bt toxins to deal with European corn borer and the corn rootworm complex;
  • Delayed release, systemic seed treatments including at least two insecticides and two fungicides, one of which is a nicotinyl implicated in honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder;
  • A return to corn soil insecticide use as a component of Bt-gene, resistance-management programs (eroding a portion of the reduction in insecticide use brought about by Bt corn);
  • Significant and historically unprecedented increases in fungicide use on corn (11 percent of crop acres were treated in latest USDA pesticide use survey 2010, no more than 1 percent was treated previously); and
  • Approval and commercial planting in the U.S. of the first GE crop that will be consumed in significant quantities by humans in a largely unprocessed form – Bt and RR sweetcorn.” Charles Benbrook – GE Crop Risk Assessment Challenges: An Overview, Food Safety News, 6 May 2013

Criticisms

  • See “forced resignation” citation regarding Benbrook’s termination from the National Research Council at the NAS, noting, “Mr. Benbrook was warned both orally and in writing on multiple occassions that his public comments, in speeches, testimony and in prent on studies already completed and on other matters were inappropriate to his role as a member of the NRC professional staff.”

Regarding Benbrook’s 2012 report on GMO and pesticide impact use in the United States:

  • Dr. Alan McHughen (UC Riverside) and researchers Graham Brookes and Janet Carpenter documented various “inaccurate claims”, “inaccuracies and biased assumptions” and “misleading use of official data” they describe as Benbrook’s justification for using his “own interpretations and assumptions” for over-estimating pesticide use on GMO crops while underestimating use on conventional and organic crops and that Benbrook produced no references from reputable science journal published research to support his allegations of human health risks from GMO Bt crops.[18]
  • “The data on which Benbrook relied do not, in fact, support his conclusions. His work exemplifies the observation of biologist James F. Bonner, who once said about the research results of a competitor that did not agree with his own, “There are a thousand ways to do an experiment wrong.” Benbrook has found many of those ways, and his recent article serves as a case study of how to bend the data to support a preordained (and insupportable) conclusion.” and “While at his previous position at the U.S. Organic Center, which is ideologically and intractably (and irrationally) opposed to genetic engineering, Benbrook authored many other papers with similar claims about genetic engineering. None were published in reputable peer-reviewed journals and when independently assessed, they were invariably exposed as being misleading and inaccurate. From his new perch in academia, Benbrook has sought credibility by managing to get one of his ideological screeds into a peer-reviewed journal.” – Graham Brookes is an agricultural economist with the UK-based consultancy business PG Economics and author of 13 peer reviewed papers on the economic and environmental impact of genetically engineered crops. With, Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.[19]

Regarding Benbrook’s Organic Center (OC) 2009 reports on GMO, pesticide use and seed choice in the United States:

  • PG Economics: “The OC’s assessment of the impact of biotech herbicide tolerant traits (HT) is disappointingly inaccurate, misleading and fails to acknowledge several of the benefits US farmers and citizens have derived from use of the technology… Its conclusions are highly dependent upon the assumptions used, and perceptions of the author, as to how seed markets work and farmers behave. We consider that the mainstream US market evidence does not support the OC report conclusions.” PG Economics briefing note 4 December 2009, “The Magnitude and impacts of the biotech and organic seed price premium: US Organic Center report assessment by PG Economics” & PG Economics Briefing note: 19 November 2009, “Impact of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use: US Organic Center report evaluation by PG Economics.[20]

Regarding Benbrook’s 2008 “Nutritional Superiority of Organic Foods” report:

  • Joseph D. Rosen, professor emeritus Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, “My own review of the study, however, shows it to be riddled with flaws and its conclusions unsupported…My own review of this study showed it to be neither rigorous nor able to support the 25 percent “more nutritious” claim. The study suffers from numerous defects, such as inclusion of publications that were not peer-reviewed, studies where the differences in nutrient content between organic and conventional produce were not statistically significant, and publications with insufficient information for statistical analysis. In some cases the study failed to include results favorable to conventional farming while including data from organically grown food that is unavailable to consumers and/or inedible and thus arguably irrelevant.”[21]

Benbrook conflicts of interest:

  • “Charles Benbrook is an employee of the Organic Center, so it should not be expected that he has no financial interest in the promotion of organic food sales. Industrial donors to the Organic Center with contributions of at least $50,000 include Aurora Organic Dairy, Horizon Organic, Organic Valley Cooperative, Silk Soy, Stonyfield Farm, White Wave, and Whole Foods Market. Individual donors of at least $50,000 include Walter Robb and John Mackey, co-presidents of Whole Foods; Eugene Kahn, a General Mills vice president and founder of their subsidiary, Cascadian Farm; Mark Retzloff, founder of Horizon Dairies; and Steve Demos, president of combined operations for White Wave, Horizon Organics, and Dean Foods.”[22]

Bibliography

Sample Advocacy Reports:

  • 2008 Report (3.7m pdf) Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years
  • 2004 Report (2.8m pdf) Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years
  • 2003 Report (869k pdf) Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Eight Years
  • 2001 Report (457k pdf) Factors Shaping Trends in Corn Herbicide Use (Including Impact of Herbicide-Tolerant Corn on Herbicide Use)
  • 2001 Report (458k pdf) Troubled Times Amid Commercial Success for Roundup Ready Soybeans – Glyphosate Efficacy is Slipping and Unstable Transgene Expression Erodes Plant Defenses and Yields (Executive Summary)
  • 1999 Report (280k pdf) Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998

Peer Reviewed Papers and Contributions:

  • Benbrook, C. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years, Env. Science Europe, accepted. Forthcoming 2012.
  • Benbrook, C. et al. Methodologic flaws in selecting studies and comparing nutrient concventrations led Dangour et al to miss the emerging forest amid the trees, Am. Jour. Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 90(6): 1700-1. 2009.
  • Benbrook, C. and C. McCullum-Gomez. Organic vs Conventional Farming, Jour. Amer. Dietetic Assoc., Vol 109(5): 809-811. 2009
  • Benbrook, C. The Impacts of Yield on Nutritional Quality: Lessons from Organic Farming, HortScience, (2007).
  • Benbrook, C. et al. Use of ‘resistance risk profiles’ to guide resistance management planning, Pesticide Outlook, Royal Society of Chemistry, 14:3, June 2003.
  • McCullum, C., C.M. Benbrook, L. Knowles, S. Roberts, & T. Schryver. Application of Modern Biotechnology to Food and Agriculture: Food Systems Perspective, J. Nutr. Educ Behav., (2003); 35:319.
  • Baker, B. P., C.M. Benbrook, E. Groth, and K.L. Benbrook. Pesticide residues in conventional, integrated pest management (IPM)-grown and organic foods: insights from three US data sets. Food Addit.Contam Vol 19(5): 427-46. 2002.
  • Benbrook, C. M. et al. Developing a pesticide risk assessment tool to monitor progress in reducing reliance on high-risk pesticides. American Journal of Potato Research, 79 (2002): 183-99.
  • Benbrook, C. M. Organochlorine residues pose surprisingly high dietary risks. J Epidemiol Community Health 56.11 (2002): 822-23.
  • Benbrook, C. Do GM Crops Mean Less Pesticide Use?, Pesticide Outlook, Royal Society of Chemistry, October 2001.
  • Nigh, R., Benbrook, C., Brush, S., Garcia-Barrios, L., Ortega-Paczka, R., Perales, H.R. Transgenic crops: a cautionary tale, Science, Vol. 287 (5460), 2000. Page 1927.
  • Benbrook, C. Apples, Kids and Core Science, Choices, Third Quarter 2000, Am. Ag. Econ. Assoc. 2000.
  • Lynch, S., D. Sexson, C.M. Benbrook, M. Carter, J. Wyman, P. Nowak, J. Barzen, S. Diercks, & J. Wallendal. Working out the Bugs, Choices, Third Quarter 2000, Am. Ag. Econ. Assoc. 2000.
  • Benbrook, C. Why A Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture?, February 6, 1990. Jan-Feb. 1991 issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.
  • Benbrook, C. Appendix B, Private Sector Research Activities and Prospects, in Investing in Research: A Proposal to Strengthen the Agricultural, Food, and Environmental System, NAS Press, 1989.
  • Benbrook, C. Is American Environmental Policy Ready for de Minimis Risks in Water?, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 8, pp. 300‑307 (1988).
  • Benbrook, C., and P. Moses. Engineering Crops to Resist Herbicides, Technology Review, MIT Press, November‑December 1986, pp. 55‑61, 79.
  • Benbrook, C. First Principles: The Definition of Highly Erodible Land and Tolerable Soil Loss, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, January‑February 1988, pp. 35‑38.
  • Benbrook, C. The Science and Art of Conservation Policy, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, September‑October 1986, pp. 285‑291.
  • Benbrook, C., and W. Brown. Public Policies and Institutions to Enhance Crop Productivity, Crop Productivity Research Imperatives Revisited, proceedings of the Crop Productivity Revisited Conference, December 11‑13, 1985, Airlie, Virginia, pp. 239‑257.
  • Benbrook, C. Carcinogen Policy at EPA, Letter to Editor, Science, Vol 219, page 798. 1983.

Affiliations

  • Robyn O’Brien, Allergy Kids Foundation[23]

Personal

  • Contact information: Enterprise, Oregon; Phone: (541) 828-7918; email: cbenbrook@wsu.edu
  • Hobbies: Fishing, raising rabbits, photography

References

  • Lion4

    Here we go again. You really are a sad bunch, motivated by hate and by a complete inability to accept anything that disturbs your delusion that GMOs are perfectly wonderful. Once again, personal vilification as a substitute for respectful scientific discourse. Does anybody actually read this stuff?

    • Jason

      “Does anybody actually read this stuff?”

      You did.

      • Lion4

        Sorry to disappoint you. never got beyond the headline.

        • Jason

          Aww… Then how did you know it was “personal vilification”? After all, there were legitimate criticisms of his work in the piece.

          • Lion4

            Put it down to divine guidance, combined with long experience.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Or Jason is correct and you are following in Benbrook’s footsteps.

          • RobertWager

            Ah, yes science policy by “divine guidance”. Didn’t we try that a few centuries back?

          • Lion4

            Put it down to divine guidance, combined with long experience.

        • Jason

          Aww… Then how did you know it was “personal vilification”? After all, there were legitimate criticisms of his work in the piece.

        • lilredhsb

          You didn’t read it but claim it’s not accurate, sounds like the way this man did his research.

        • lilredhsb

          You didn’t read it but claim it’s not accurate, sounds like the way this man did his research.

    • mem_somerville

      Hilarious. I’ve seen what you said about Kevin. Do you actually believe your own organic BS?

    • agscienceliterate

      No, darling. Motivated by science. And disgusted at Benbrook’s organic-industry funded rants against that science. Direct conflict of interest. Surprised you don’t see that or acknowledge that.
      I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice guy to have a beer with. So, personal vilification about him? Naaaaah. But a scientific discussion? Not so much.
      Oh, and the last time I heard “Here we go again” was with Double-Ya doing his idiot number when he was “the decider” (shudder) of the U.S. So, not too compelling.

    • agscienceliterate

      No, darling. Motivated by science. And disgusted at Benbrook’s organic-industry funded rants against that science. Direct conflict of interest. Surprised you don’t see that or acknowledge that.
      I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice guy to have a beer with. So, personal vilification about him? Naaaaah. But a scientific discussion? Not so much.
      Oh, and the last time I heard “Here we go again” was with Double-Ya doing his idiot number when he was “the decider” (shudder) of the U.S. So, not too compelling.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Yes, some of are curious and wonder why and how an intelligent man can somehow think that other similarly educated folks will not discover his deceptions. Besides that I remember my parents repeatedly advising us to “consider the source” How can one consider the source without knowledge of such? Also this is similar to the way that Lee and his staff researched the personality and background of the commanders of the army of the Potomac

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Yes, some of are curious and wonder why and how an intelligent man can somehow think that other similarly educated folks will not discover his deceptions. Besides that I remember my parents repeatedly advising us to “consider the source” How can one consider the source without knowledge of such? Also this is similar to the way that Lee and his staff researched the personality and background of the commanders of the army of the Potomac

    • Loren Eaton

      Dude, get over yourself! Hate?? You mean like comparing GMOs to rape (Shiva) and the famous Nazi hit list (Mikey Adams)?

    • Steven Irizarry

      you support terrorism

    • Steven Irizarry

      you support terrorism

  • Linda Chalker-Scott

    You’ve got a deadend link (14). Should read http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/alumni-give-5m-to-wsu-organic-farm/. Plus, all the university references in that paragraph should be Washington State University, not Washington University or University of Washington.

  • Linda Chalker-Scott

    You’ve got a deadend link (14). Should read http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/alumni-give-5m-to-wsu-organic-farm/. Plus, all the university references in that paragraph should be Washington State University, not Washington University or University of Washington.

  • agscienceliterate

    L4, I’m curious if you are able to acknowledge that Benbrook is paid openly and actively by the huge and well-funded organic industry. And, thus, that his statements have bona fide conflicts of interest. (activists like to call these people “shills.”) And thus, an obvious lack of objectivity.

    His lack of independent scientific credibility should indeed be “villified” by scientists who see through this obvious link to the organic industry, and his clear mouthing of the activist propaganda that lines his wallet. He is personally responsible for what he says. He disingenuously cloakes his propaganda in the name of “science,” when it is clearly in his financial benefit to twist current scientific consensus on genetic engineering. I call him to task on his poor choices. With any integrity, you should, too.

    • As this analysis notes, while at WSU, all of Benbrook’s funding came from the organic industry, the activist Organic Consumers Association–virulently ant-science (vaccine denying organization for example)–being most prominent.

    • As this analysis notes, while at WSU, all of Benbrook’s funding came from the organic industry, the activist Organic Consumers Association–virulently ant-science (vaccine denying organization for example)–being most prominent.

      • agscienceliterate

        Yes, exactly … and I’m wondering why the anti-science activists look the other way and give him a pass. Ignoring disingenuous and obvious conflict-of-interest arguments from the pro-organic side doesn’t give these activists any more credibility. (not that they have much to begin with, from a science perspective) It’s intellectually dishonest. And Benbrook absolutely should be taken to task for that.

      • Wackes Seppi

        Benbrook also toured Australia to spread the anti-GMO gospel by courtesy of Genethics, Greenpeace and Network of Concerned Farmers in 2005.

        http://gmopundit.blogspot.fr/2005/11/advice-to-zambia-from-charles-benbrook.html

        His “advice” to a delegation from Zambia who visited the US at a time there was a food crisis in Zambia is also worth a re-read:

        “Anyone who claims that U.S. and European regulatory reviews “prove” safety in the context of food aid to Africa is either ignorant of the factual basis of U.S. and European regulatory reviews, or is willing to make some rather major assumptions.”

        The necessary implication of this part of the statement is that he agreed with those who proclaimed “better dead than GM-fed” (the “dead” applies of course to the starving East-Africans, not the well-fed preachers). This is crime against Humanity.

        Benbrook produced a “report” for Greenpeace to oppose glyphosate-tolerant crops in Europe:

        http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/agriculture/2012/438-Benbrook-Report-Summary.pdf

        He toured Europe for 18 days, courtesy of Greenpeace.in October-November 2012.

        http://occupy-monsanto.com/tag/charles-benbrook/

  • Jim Harris

    Though Charles Benbrook has not been a “friend” of agriculture, in my estimation, his home near Troy, OR may be threatened by wildfire. That entire area is under a level 3 evacuation. I don’t wish that level of stress on anyone.

    • Jim Harris

      In the mid-1980s I was a volunteer board member for our state wheat growers organization. I was fortunate enough to travel to our nations’ capitol to meet with various bureaucrats, members of Congress, and others. One of those meetings was at the American Farmland Trust offices.

      I went in to the meeting feeling that this would be a non-contentious appointment, as we’re all in favor of farmland and I voiced this to the other wheat grower with me. His response was short and caught me off guard. He simply said, “Don’t count on it.”

      He was right. The person we met with was Charles Benbrook. While I don’t remember specifics of the meeting, I remember a deep sense of dismay with the entire meeting.

      This would have been shortly after Mr. Benbrook graduated from college and he was no friend of modern agriculture then. Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  • Tip Reburn

    So, Patrick Moore, who is a paid spokesperson for heavily polluting companies and for GMOs, should be wholesale blacklisted as a credible source on anything related to GMOs or (especially) forestry. Yes! I knew I was right! If you can write off Benbrook, I can write off Patrick Moore as being a credible source on anything related to, anything really…Money makes your words hollow This is an intelligent compromise.

  • Brucus Ruckus

    Suggesting that Dr. Benbrook might have declared funding from organic entities is not validation of GMO monocultire. As he told NYT, it’s a ‘friggin’ war’. Several pro-GMO scientists are said to have not declared expenses paid by biotech firms, and also parroted industry prepared Q & As.