Chuck Benbrook

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Charles M. Benbrook
Born (1949-11-26) November 26, 1949 (age 70)
Alma materHarvard University
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Spouse(s)Karen Lutz Benbrook
Scientific career
FieldsAgricultural economics
InstitutionsWashington State University
ThesisFarm structural characteristics, management practices, and the environment : an exploratory analysis (1980)

Charles M. "Chuck" Benbrook is an American agricultural economist and former research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, a position to which he was appointed in 2012. At the CSANR, he directed the "Measure to Manage" program.[2] Benbrook was also the scientific advisor for the Oregon-based nonprofit organization "Organic Center" from 2004 to June 2012.[2] As of September 2015, Benbrook was no longer on the faculty of Washington State University.[3]


Benbrook holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard University (1971), as well as an M.A. (1979) and a PhD (1980) in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.[2]


Benbrook spent 18 years (1979-1997) working in Washington, DC, on agricultural policy and regulation. During this time, he served for two years (1981-1983) as the director of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Research, and Foreign Agriculture of the U.S. House of Representatives.[4] He also directed the National Academy of Sciences' Board on Agriculture from 1984 to 1990.[2][5] On a 1993 Frontline program entitled "In Our Children's Food," which focused on a NAS report on pesticides of which Benbrook was the lead author, he warned that the regulatory limits on pesticides were based on adults, even though they are more dangerous to children. He also suggested that he had been fired from the NAS panel for criticizing the pesticide industry.[6]

Benbrook served as chief scientist at the Organic Center, an organic industry funded nonprofit organization,[3] from 2004 until 2012.[2]

Between 2012 and 2015, Benbrook was the research professor at Washington State University for the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. Here he conducted several studies funded entirely by the organic food industry, who also paid for his trips to Washington where he lobbied for requiring a label on genetically modified organisms.[3]


One of Benbrook's best-known studies is one published in 2012, funded by the organic industry,[3] which concluded that genetically modified foods have resulted in increased pesticide use, purportedly because weeds are developing resistance to glyphosate.[7][8] However, some critics stated this study was flawed, because Benbrook did not take into account the fact that glyphosate is less toxic than other herbicides, thus the net toxicity may decrease even as the total herbicide use increases.[9][10] In addition, Graham Brookes, co-director of PG Economics, a company providing services to agri-technology companies, accused Benbrook of making subjective estimates of herbicide use because the data provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service doesn't distinguish between genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops. Brookes had published a study whose conclusions contradicted those of Benbrook's earlier in 2012.[11][12] Brookes also stated that Benbrook had made "biased and inaccurate" assumptions.[13]

More recently, in December 2013, Benbrook was the lead author of a study which reported that organic milk contained significantly higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.[14] The study was funded in part by the organic milk producer Organic Valley, although Allison Aubrey of NPR reported that they had no role in the study's design or analysis.[15]

In July 2014, Benbrook was a co-author on 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, but also lower levels of protein than did conventional food.[16][17]


Genetically modified food[edit]

Benbrook was a signatory on a 2013 statement issued by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility which asserted that there is no consensus on the safety of genetically modified food. He has said this statement was motivated in part by I-522, a bill introduced in Washington state that year. When contacted by Seattle Weekly, Benbrook also said that he thinks that " that alters the composition of food could lead to problems beyond science’s ability to predict."[18]

He gave an address to a National Research Council study group on genetically modified foods in September 2014. In his address, he argued that the reason many people are not confident in the safety of genetically modified foods is that the regulatory systems in place rely too much on studies supplied by companies that develop such foods.[19]


Benbrook criticized a 2012 paper which concluded that organic food did not confer significant health advantages relative to conventional food. In a letter to the Annals of Internal Medicine, he wrote that their finding of a 30 percent "risk difference" between organic and conventional food was misleading, because the metric does not refer to health risk, and that pesticide risk is a function of many other factors in addition to contamination.[20] In 2015, Benbrook and Philip Landrigan co-authored a perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine urging the United States government to conduct new assessments of the safety of glyphosate, which had been declared a probable human carcinogen earlier that year.[21][22]


  1. ^ Benbrook's CV
  2. ^ a b c d e Benbrook's faculty page
  3. ^ a b c d Lipton, Eric (5 September 2015). "Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show". New York Times. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  4. ^ "Charles Benbrook". Feeding a Hot and Hungry Planet: The Challenge of Making More Food and Fewer Greenhouse Gases. Princeton University. 2009. Archived from the original on 11 August 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  5. ^ Kamb, Lewis (22 October 2013). "Truth Needle: I-522 ads stretch truth on what would be labeled". Seattle Times. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  6. ^ Goodman, Walter (30 March 1993). "Review/Television; Hoping That Children Aren't What They Eat". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  7. ^ Benbrook, C. M. (2012). "Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -- the first sixteen years". Environmental Sciences Europe. 24: 24. doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-24.
  8. ^ Philpott, Tom (3 October 2012). "How GMOs Unleashed a Pesticide Gusher". Mother Jones. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  9. ^ Kloor, Keith (3 October 2012). "When Bad News Stories Help Bad Science Go Viral". Discover. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  10. ^ Mestel, Rosie (24 October 2012). "Examining the scientific evidence against genetically modified foods". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  11. ^ Brookes, G.; Barfoot, P. (2012). "Global impact of biotech crops: Environmental effects, 1996–2010". GM Crops & Food. 3 (2): 129–137. doi:10.4161/gmcr.20061. PMID 22534352.
  12. ^ Entine, Jon (12 October 2012). "Scientists, Journalists Challenge Claim that GM Crops Harm the Environment". Forbes. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  13. ^ Peeples, Lynne (4 October 2012). "Pesticide Use Proliferating With GMO Crops, Study Warns". Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  14. ^ Benbrook, C. M.; Butler, G.; Latif, M. A.; Leifert, C.; Davis, D. R. (2013). Wiley, Andrea S (ed.). "Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States–Wide, 18-Month Study". PLoS ONE. 8 (12): e82429. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082429. PMC 3857247. PMID 24349282.
  15. ^ Aubrey, Allison (10 December 2013). "Fresh Research Finds Organic Milk Packs In Omega-3s". NPR. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  16. ^ Barański, Marcin; Średnicka-Tober, Dominika; Volakakis, Nikolaos; Seal, Chris; Sanderson, Roy; Stewart, Gavin B.; Benbrook, Charles; Biavati, Bruno; Markellou, Emilia; Giotis, Charilaos; Gromadzka-Ostrowska, Joanna; Rembiałkowska, Ewa; Skwarło-Sońta, Krystyna; Tahvonen, Raija; Janovská, Dagmar; Niggli, Urs; Nicot, Philippe; Leifert, Carlo (26 June 2014). "Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses". British Journal of Nutrition. 112 (5): 794–811. doi:10.1017/S0007114514001366. PMC 4141693. PMID 24968103.
  17. ^ Carrington, David; Arnett, George (11 July 2014). "Clear differences between organic and non-organic food, study finds". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  18. ^ Shapiro, Nina (24 October 2013). "GMOs: Group Refutes Claim of 'Scientific Consensus'". Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on 3 May 2014. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  19. ^ Gillam, Carey (15 September 2014). "GMO safety, weed control top concerns as US study kicks off". Reuters. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  20. ^ Holzman, David C. (2012). "Organic Food Conclusions Don't Tell the Whole Story". Environmental Health Perspectives. 120 (12). doi:10.1289/ehp.120-a458. PMC 3546364. PMID 23211213.
  21. ^ Landrigan, Philip J.; Benbrook, Charles (20 August 2015). "GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health". New England Journal of Medicine. 373 (8): 693–695. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1505660. PMID 26287848.
  22. ^ Gillam, Carey (19 August 2015). "Scientists call for new review of herbicide, cite 'flawed' U.S. regulations". Reuters. Retrieved 5 September 2015.

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