The Importance of an Ecological Perspective on our Food System
Polly Walker Ecology Fund Inaugural Speaker
December 7, 2010
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The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future recently presented the first annual Polly Walker Ecology Fund Lecture at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In his talk, “The Roots of Health,” Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., spoke to the importance of an ecological perspective on our food system. Beginning his lecture with the fact that corn accounts for one in four harvested crop acres in the United States (and much of that corn becomes cattle feed), Dr. Benbrook discussed dairy conventional and organic dairy farming and the challenge of meeting global food needs with organic production.
According to Dr. Benbrook, a switch to organic dairy production would have significant public health benefits, as essentially every load of conventional milk contains antibiotic residues and a less-than-ideal concentration of fatty acids. Dr. Benbrook predicts that overcoming food system challenges will involve solutions at the management level, “with roots sunk deeply in the ecological and biological dynamics of complex ecosystems.”
Chief Scientist at the Organic Center in Boulder, Colorado, Dr. Benbrook is an expert on agricultural policy, science and regulatory issues. He worked in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences on agricultural policy, science and regulatory issues from 1979 through 1997. Dr. Benbrook received his Ph.D. in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and currently holds an adjunct faculty position in the Crop and Soil Sciences Department at Washington State University. He has authored many reports, books, and peer-reviewed articles on agricultural science, technology, public health, and environmental issues.
The Organic Center
Dr. Charles Benbrook is the Organic Center's Chief Scientist and an expert on agricultural policy, science and regulatory issues. Dr. Benbrook worked in Washington, D.C. on agricultural policy, science and regulatory issues from 1979 through 1997. He served for 1-1/2 years as the agricultural staff expert on the Council for Environmental Quality at the end of the Carter Administration. Following the election of Ronald Reagan, he moved to Capitol Hill in early 1981 and was the Executive Director of the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture with jurisdiction over pesticide regulation, research, trade and foreign agricultural issues.
In 1984, Dr. Benbrook was recruited to the job of Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, a position he held for seven years. Several influential NAS reports were completed in this period on the need for and aspects of sustainable agriculture. In late 1990, he formed Benbrook Consulting Services. He has authored many reports, books, and peer reviewed articles on agricultural science, technology, public health, and environmental issues. Dr. Benbrook received his PhD in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. He holds an adjunct faculty position in the Crop and Soil Sciences Department, Washington State University.