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Ken Cook
Ken Cook, president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group, is widely recognized as one of the environmental community’s most prominent and influential critics of industrial agriculture, U.S. food and farm policy and the nation’s broken approach to protecting families and children from toxic substances.

Under Cook’s leadership over the past 20 years, EWG has pioneered the use of digital technologies to expose the harms done by misconceived crop subsidies, crop insurance and runaway agricultural pollution. The organization has also empowered American families with easy-to-use, data-driven tools to help reduce their exposure to potentially harmful ingredients in foods, drinking water, cosmetics and other household products. These unique digital resources are searched hundreds of millions times by consumers, journalists and policy makers.

Cook is a widely sought public speaker on these and other environmental health issues and is frequently cited for the outsized impact that his and EWG’s work has had on policy debates in Washington and state and local governments across the country.

Cook was a principal architect of landmark provisions of the 1985 farm bill that for the first time shifted U.S. farm policy from a narrow focus on maximum crop production to conservation of land, water, wetlands and wildlife. The legislation was widely regarded the most important environmental farm policy reform in decades. He went on to co-found EWG, which created an online database of federal farm subsidy payments and recipients that has generated thousands of stories about the nation’s broken farm policies. A New York Times profile of Cook said the website helped “transform the [2002] farm bill into a question about equity and whether the country’s wealthiest farmers should be paid to grow commodity crops while many smaller family farms receive nothing and are going out of business.” Cook and EWG played a similarly prominent role during the crafting of the 2008 and 2014 farm bills, fighting successfully to add conservation requirements on farms that benefit from federally subsidized crop insurance.

In the 1990s, EWG’s research was a major factor in the passage of the landmark pesticide reform law, the Food Quality Protection Act. EWG was among the first to draw attention to the health threat posed by the weed-killer atrazine and conducted the first extensive tests for the chemical in tap water in 29 Midwest cities. In the last several years Cook and EWG have been in the forefront of national and state campaigns to require the labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Cook has addressed food, agriculture and toxics policy in countless media interviews, including with 60 Minutes, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, MSNBC, CNBC, FOX Business News, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Reuters, The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. He testifies regularly before House and Senate committees and for the past 20 years has briefed top White House officials and every U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and EPA Administrator on EWG’s research and policy positions.

He has been recognized with multiple awards from health and environmental organizations including Mount Sinai Hospital’s Children’s Environmental Health Center, the U.S. Healthful Food Council and Epidemic Answers.

Cook is a board member of Food Policy Action (and founding chairman), Organic Voices and the Amazon Conservation Team and a former member of the board of the Organic Center. He earned a B.A. in history, B.S. in agriculture and M.S. in soil science at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

He is married to Deb Callahan and lives in northern California with their young son, Callahan.

Entries by Ken Cook

Raised to Farm

(6) Comments | Posted August 28, 2014 | 1:21 PM

Co-authored with Matt & Peg Sheaffer; Jennifer & Jeff Miller, Sandhill Family Farms; Mike Sands, Farm Business Development Center; Brad Leibov, Liberty Prairie Foundation; Karen Lehman, Fresh Taste.

We read Bren Smith's recent op-ed in The New York Times on the economic challenges of small-scale farming ("Don't Let Your...

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Another Environmentalist Apologizes Over GMOs

(55) Comments | Posted January 18, 2013 | 12:31 PM

I need to start by publicly apologizing for not engaging in the debate over genetically engineered crops, technically, genetically modified organisms or GMOs, until two years ago.

When I co-founded the Environmental Working Group in 1993, Mark Lynas was ripping up farmers' crops. Back then I dismissed people like Lynas,...

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WATCH: GMO Ag Company Touts Seed Corn With a Bug Zapper in Every Bite

(21) Comments | Posted October 19, 2012 | 3:39 PM

Pesticide and chemical companies battling California's Proposition 37, which would require labeling of genetically engineered foods, are telling Californians these genetically engineered foods are perfectly safe and no different from food grown naturally.

But at least one corporation is delivering a very different message to corn farmers. Syngenta has posted...

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I Call the Vote: A Farm Bill Litmus Test for the Food Movement

(1) Comments | Posted May 10, 2012 | 4:57 PM

Here's a simple proposition to test whether the food movement can stand up to Big Ag. We're asking readers who care about providing healthier food to school children to take a stand by voting on our resolution: A Farm Bill for Healthy Kids.

Be it resolved: Notwithstanding the need for...

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Toxic Chemicals in U.S. Food Packaging Must Go

(13) Comments | Posted March 26, 2012 | 5:24 PM

Under mounting pressure from consumers, scientists, advocacy groups and lawsuits, the U.S. government is about to decide whether to ban the ubiquitous industrial chemical BPA (bisphenol-A) from food packaging, including infant formula and canned food.

If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration takes that step, it will...

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The Food Movement Must Fight a "Secret Farm Bill"

(6) Comments | Posted October 27, 2011 | 1:54 PM

The farm subsidy lobby and a handful of their powerful Congressional allies are working overtime to skirt normal democratic processes, write a farm bill behind closed doors and slip it into law through the congressional Super Committee. But their plan to write a secret farm bill is finally...

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Best Friends Forever? Produce Growers and Pesticide Makers Deepen Their Bond

(4) Comments | Posted June 6, 2011 | 8:21 PM

In nearly two decades of research and advocacy on pesticides and human health, Environmental Working Group has never before seen the produce industry take a high-profile role in debates over pesticide policy and safety, as it has this year. Invariably, it was the trade association for the pesticide industry that...

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Their Spray Rigs in a Twist

(12) Comments | Posted May 13, 2011 | 12:19 PM

When industry lobbyists want the government to do something the public won't like, they usually go about it quietly.

Not so for the produce and pesticide lobby. It's been pushing for months to have the government adopt the industry spin on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's upcoming annual report on...

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Thank You for Spraying

(33) Comments | Posted April 8, 2011 | 5:05 PM

When Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) spoke to the Organic Trade Association's Washington Policy Conference the other day, her talk had two parts: the part where she left the distinct impression that she had no idea whom she was talking to, and the part where it seemed she didn't care.

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

(10) Comments | Posted March 3, 2011 | 4:17 PM

To judge by the results of their budget-slashing, all-night tea party a few weeks back, Republicans must have swarmed out of their caucus and onto the floor of the House of Representatives with a single rallying cry on their lips.

Women and children first!

No, that's not whom Republicans vowed...

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Money Where Our Mouths Are

(3) Comments | Posted January 13, 2011 | 3:45 PM

Food and agriculture policy always comes down to money: how federal dollars will be prioritized and spent. If anyone needed reminders of this dynamic, 2010 provided at least two.

The lesson to be drawn from both is very simple. If "civilians" (as in taxpayers) don't stand up in politically significant...

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Let's move the Safe Cosmetics bill

(10) Comments | Posted July 21, 2010 | 5:50 PM

What's in that stuff you're dumping your head/rubbing into your face/ pouring into your bath? How about the stuff that goes onto - and, quickly, into - your kids' bodies?

Because personal care products are essentially unregulated and sketchily labeled, it's not easy for consumers to find out exactly what...

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$600 Million for BP Courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer

(8) Comments | Posted July 2, 2010 | 11:46 AM

2010 won't be all lemons for BP. Sure, the company will be best remembered for blowout preventers, top kill and Tony Hayward, but along the way the oil giant stands to make a killing from its investment in the US ethanol industry and the special tax breaks that came with...

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Breaking Conservation Promises

(0) Comments | Posted March 31, 2010 | 2:59 PM

On Wednesday, March 24, the full Senate Agriculture Committee endorsed Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln's Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Her goal of providing $4.5 billion to put healthier food in the mouths of America's children is laudable. Unfortunately, her proposal breaks a promise that helped ensure passage of the 2008 farm...

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Sigg Zigs, Zags and Sags

(2) Comments | Posted September 8, 2009 | 5:42 PM

Patagonia is PO'd, and in corporate America there's no worse brand to get dissed by if you're trying to sell in the green space.

Patagonia is the gold standard for environmentally responsible business. And at the company's insistence, it's recycled gold.

The Ventura, Calif. firm and icon of...

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SIGG Should Apologize, Offer Refunds to Consumers

(2) Comments | Posted September 3, 2009 | 4:52 PM

SIGG CEO Steve Wasik called earlier today to discuss Environmental Working Group's (EWG) response to his recent announcement that SIGG water bottles did in fact contain the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in their liners until August 2008.

Wasik's announcement has caused an uproar because the company led consumers...

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Ethanol and the Price of Food

(6) Comments | Posted November 14, 2008 | 4:25 PM

In the Huffington Post on November 11th, Dave Vander Griend took aim at a coalition of food companies opposing the federal mandate for biofuels production. For months, these companies have felt the same pinch consumers in America and across the globe have felt as food prices have spiked, spurred...

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