Dan Charles

Dan Charles is NPR's food and agriculture correspondent.

Primarily responsible for covering farming and the food industry, Charles focuses on the stories of culture, business, and the science behind what arrives on your dinner plate.

This is his second time working for NPR; from 1993 to 1999, Charles was a technology correspondent at NPR. He returned in 2011.

During his time away from NPR, Charles was an independent writer and radio producer and occasionally filled in at NPR on the Science and National desks, and at Weekend Edition. Over the course of his career Charles has reported on software engineers in India, fertilizer use in China, dengue fever in Peru, alternative medicine in Germany, and efforts to turn around a troubled school in Washington, DC.

In 2009-2010, he taught journalism in Ukraine through the Fulbright program. He has been guest researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, Germany, and a Knight Science Journalism fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From 1990 to 1993, Charles was a U.S. correspondent for New Scientist, a major British science magazine.

The author of two books, Charles wrote Master Mind: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, The Nobel Laureate Who Launched the Age of Chemical Warfare (Ecco, 2005) and Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food (Perseus, 2001) about the making of genetically engineered crops.

Charles graduated magna cum laude from American University with a degree in economics and international affairs. After graduation Charles spent a year studying in Bonn, which was then part of West Germany, through the German Academic Exchange Service.

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The Salt
5:55 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Are Antibiotics On The Farm Risky Business?

These pigs, newly weaned from their mothers, are at their most vulnerable stage of life. They're getting antibiotics in their water to ward off bacterial infection.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 5:25 pm

You've probably seen the labels on meat in the store: "Raised without antibiotics." They're a selling point for people who don't like how many drugs are used on chickens, turkey, hogs and beef cattle.

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The Salt
3:39 am
Tue July 9, 2013

As Biotech Seed Falters, Insecticide Use Surges In Corn Belt

Crop consultant Dan Steiner inspects a field of corn near Norfolk, Neb.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Wed July 10, 2013 2:56 pm

Across the Midwestern corn belt, a familiar battle has resumed, hidden in the soil. On one side are tiny, white larvae of the corn rootworm. On the other side are farmers and the insect-killing arsenal of modern agriculture.

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The Salt
5:44 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

What The Rise Of Cage-Free Eggs Means For Chickens

Cage-free chickens in Harold Sensenig's barn near Hershey, Pa., get to roam and perch on steel rods, but they don't go outside.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Sat June 29, 2013 9:32 pm

The typical life of an egg-laying chicken is beginning to change dramatically.

Ninety percent of the eggs we eat come from chickens that live in long lines of wire cages, about eight birds to a cage. Animal welfare groups have long been campaigning against these cages.

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The Salt
6:05 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

House Smacks Down Farm Bill, And Farm Lobby, Too

Gracie Shannon-Sanborn, 5, holds a sign as she joins her father Allen Sanborn (L) and members of Progressive Democrats of America at a rally in front of Rep. Henry Waxman's office on June 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, Calif. The protestors asked the congressman to vote against a House farm bill, which was defeated Thursday.
Kevork Djansezian Getty Images

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 2:16 pm

The so-called farm bill came to the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday. And it crashed. The defeat shocked many observers, but the vote wasn't even particularly close: 234-195. (You can see how your own representative voted here.)

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The Salt
3:41 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

And The Winner Of The World Food Prize Is ... The Man From Monsanto

James Finley AP

Ever heard of the World Food Prize? It's sometimes called the "Nobel Prize for food and agriculture," but it has struggled to get people's attention. Prize winners tend to be agricultural insiders, and many are scientists. Last year's laureate, for instance, was Daniel Hillel, a pioneer of water-saving "micro-irrigation."

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The Salt
1:25 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

Court To Monsanto: You Said You Won't Sue, So You Can't

A farmer holds Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybean seeds at his family farm in Bunceton, Mo.
Dan Gill AP

Originally published on Fri June 14, 2013 1:33 pm

A federal appeals court slapped down a quixotic legal campaign against Monsanto's biotech patents this week.

Organic farmers had gone to court to declare those patents invalid. The farmers, according to their lawyers, were "forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement" if their field became contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed.

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The Salt
3:20 am
Fri May 31, 2013

Michigan Tracks Cattle From Birth To Plate

Whenever a steer or cow leaves a farm in Michigan or goes to a slaughterhouse, it passes by a tag reader, and its ID number goes to a central computer that keeps track of every animal's location.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 10:54 am

When you pick up a cut of beef at the store, would you like to know that animal's life history? The technology to do this does exist — at least in Michigan, where the state requires all cattle to carry electronic ear tags. It's the only state that requires such tags.

Michigan's cattle-tracking system was forced on farmers because of a crisis. Fifteen years ago, cattle in part of the state started catching tuberculosis from wild deer.

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The Salt
3:05 am
Thu May 30, 2013

GMO Wheat Found In Oregon Field. How Did It Get There?

Genetically modified wheat has been discovered growing in a field in Oregon. GMO wheat is not approved for sale in the U.S. Above, a wheat field in Arkansas.
Danny Johnston AP

Originally published on Mon June 3, 2013 2:03 pm

A farmer in Oregon has found some genetically engineered wheat growing on his land. It's an unwelcome surprise, because this type of wheat has never been approved for commercial planting.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it's investigating, trying to find out how this wheat got there. The USDA says there's no risk to public health, but wheat exporters are worried about how their customers in Asia and Europe will react.

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The Salt
8:03 am
Mon May 27, 2013

A Hungarian Cherry Tree's Long Trek To Michigan

Amy Iezzoni of Michigan State University brought Balaton cherries to America.
Dan Charles NPR

Once upon a time, there was a small Hungarian village that was very proud of its sour cherries. The village was called Újfehértó. As in many Hungarian villages, tall cherry trees lined the streets and provided welcome shade in the summertime.

When communism came to Hungary after World War II, the government introduced big collective farms, and Hungarian scientists had to decide which cherries the farms should grow.

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The Salt
5:47 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Congress: Where Food Reforms Go To Die?

Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 6:17 pm

Two seemingly common-sense, bipartisan food reforms have gotten mugged on Capitol Hill in recent days. If you're a loyal reader of The Salt, you've heard of them.

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The Salt
6:12 pm
Tue May 7, 2013

Bee Deaths May Have Reached A Crisis Point For Crops

A bee inspector checks on a frame of bees to assess the colony strength near Turlock, Calif., in February. More than 30 percent of America's bee colonies died off over the winter.
Gosia Wozniacka AP

Originally published on Tue May 7, 2013 10:56 pm

According to a new survey of America's beekeepers, almost a third of the country's honeybee colonies did not make it through the winter.

That's been the case, in fact, almost every year since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began this annual survey, six years ago.

Over the past six years, on average, 30 percent of all the honeybee colonies in the U.S. died off over the winter. The worst year was five years ago. Last year was the best: Just 22 percent of the colonies died.

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The Salt
4:19 pm
Fri May 3, 2013

Unraveling The Mystery Of A Rice Revolution

Rice farmers in Indonesia plant rice seedlings using the "system of rice intensification."
Courtesy of SRI International Network and Resources Center

Originally published on Fri May 3, 2013 5:02 pm

It's a captivating story: A global rice-growing revolution that started with a Jesuit priest in Madagascar, far from any recognized center of agricultural innovation. Every so often, it surfaces in the popular media — most recently in The Guardian, which earlier this year described farmers in one corner of India hauling in gigantic rice harvests without resorting to pesticides or genetic modification.

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The Salt
6:29 pm
Wed May 1, 2013

Who Paid For Last Summer's Drought? You Did

Corn plants dry in a drought-stricken farm field near Fritchton, Ind., last summer.
Scott Olson Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 1, 2013 7:10 pm

Say the words "crop insurance" and most people start to yawn. For years, few nonfarmers knew much about these government-subsidized insurance policies, and even fewer found any fault with them. After all, who could criticize a safety net for farmers that saves them from getting wiped out by floods or drought?

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The Salt
2:57 am
Fri April 26, 2013

Exploring Coffee's Past To Rescue Its Future

Eduardo Somarriba is a researcher at the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Education in Turrialba, Costa Rica.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 3:47 pm

At the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Education (CATIE) in Turrialba, Costa Rica, you can touch the history of coffee — and also, if the optimists have their way, part of its future.

Here, spread across 25 acres, are coffee trees that take you back to coffee's origins.

"The story starts in Africa, no? East Africa," says Eduardo Somarriba, a researcher at CATIE, as we walk through long rows of small coffee trees.

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The Salt
3:20 am
Wed April 24, 2013

Coffee For A Cause: What Do Those Feel-Good Labels Deliver?

Luis Fernando Vasquez has been a coffee farmer in the central valley of Costa Rica his entire life.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 3:50 pm

What does it take to find guilt-free coffee?

Much of our coffee comes from places where the environment is endangered and workers earn very little — sometimes, just a few dollars for a whole day's work. Coffee farmers have helped cut down tropical forests, and most of them use pesticides.

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The Salt
3:22 am
Mon April 22, 2013

How Coffee Brings The World Together

The best coffee comes from high altitudes with a warm climate like in Huehuetenango, Guatemala.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 3:51 pm

Coffee is more than a drink. For many of us — OK, for me — it's woven into the fabric of every day.

It also connects us to far corners of the globe.

For instance, every Friday, a truck pulls up to the warehouse of Counter Culture Coffee, a small roaster and coffee distributor in Durham, N.C., and unloads a bunch of heavy burlap sacks.

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The Salt
5:06 pm
Fri April 19, 2013

Fertilizer Shows Its Deadly Side

Workers at a cooperative farm near Shanghai scatter fertilizer across fields of winter wheat. Image from the May issue of National Geographic magazine.
© Peter Essick National Geographic

My first reaction when I heard details of this week's deadly fertilizer explosion in Texas was horror.

My second thought was, "Maybe I shouldn't have pushed to change that headline."

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The Salt
4:29 pm
Wed April 10, 2013

As Promised: Obama Wants To Overhaul Global Anti-Hunger Efforts

Palestinians unload bags of flour donated by USAID, or the United States Agency for International Development, at a depot in the West Bank village of Anin in 2008.
Mohammed Ballas AP

Originally published on Wed April 10, 2013 5:10 pm

The White House unveiled its proposal Wednesday for drastic changes in government programs that donate food to fight hunger abroad — and surprised no one.

As we reported last week, rumors of such an overhaul had been circulating for weeks, arousing both hope and anger among organizations involved in global anti-hunger programs.

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The Salt
3:18 am
Thu April 4, 2013

A Political War Brews Over 'Food For Peace' Aid Program

Pakistani aid workers offload USAID food supplies from an Army helicopter in Kallam Valley during catastrophic flooding in 2010.
Behrouz Mehri AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 3:47 pm

Washington is awash in rumors this week that the White House is planning major changes in the way the U.S. donates food to fight hunger in some of the world's poorest countries.

It has set off an emotional debate. Both sides say they are trying to save lives.

America's policies on food aid are singularly generous — and also unusually selfish. On the generous side, the U.S. spends roughly $1.5 billion every year to send food abroad, far more than any other country.

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The Salt
6:08 pm
Mon March 25, 2013

Are Agriculture's Most Popular Insecticides Killing Our Bees?

Workers clear honey from dead beehives at a bee farm east of Merced, Calif.
Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 10:42 am

Environmentalists and beekeepers are calling on the government to ban some of the country's most widely used insect-killing chemicals.

The pesticides, called neonicotinoids, became popular among farmers during the 1990s. They're used to coat the seeds of many agricultural crops, including the biggest crop of all: corn. Neonics, as they're called, protect those crops from insect pests.

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The Salt
2:59 am
Thu March 7, 2013

In A Grain Of Golden Rice, A World Of Controversy Over GMO Foods

Genetically modified to be enriched with beta-carotene, golden rice grains (left) are a deep yellow. At right, white rice grains.
Isagani Serrano International Rice Research Institute

Originally published on Fri March 8, 2013 10:44 am

There's a kind of rice growing in some test plots in the Philippines that's unlike any rice ever seen before. It's yellow. Its backers call it "golden rice." It's been genetically modified so that it contains beta-carotene, the source of vitamin A.

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The Salt
2:58 am
Fri March 1, 2013

Wild Bees Are Good For Crops, But Crops Are Bad For Bees

Wild bees, such as this Andrena bee visiting highbush blueberry flowers, play a key role in boosting crop yields.
Left photo by Rufus Isaac/AAAS; Right photo courtesy of Daniel M.N. Turner

Originally published on Tue March 5, 2013 12:13 pm

Some of the most healthful foods you can think of — blueberries, cranberries, apples, almonds and squash — would never get to your plate without the help of insects. No insects, no pollination. No pollination, no fruit.

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The Salt
8:09 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Oxfam Gives Big Food Companies Bad Behavior Grades

Oxfam's "report card" evaluates giants of the supermarket aisle on their commitment to social and environmental issues.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 9:42 am

Do failing grades inspire more effort? Oxfam hopes so. The activist group on behalf of the poor has just handed out report cards to 10 of the world's top food companies, grading their commitments to protect the environment and treat people fairly.

Oxfam doesn't grade on the curve, evidently. Every company flunked. But two European-based companies, Nestle and Unilever, were at least better than the others.

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The Salt
1:42 pm
Fri February 22, 2013

Despite Lingering Drought, USDA Predicts A Flood Of Grain

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 2:51 pm

Economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gazing into their crystal ball, see American farmers planting and harvesting huge amounts of corn, soybeans, and wheat this year. They're predicting a record harvest of corn: 14 billion bushels, up nearly 40 percent over last year's drought-crippled level.

With supply up, prices will fall. The USDA thinks that the price of the average bushel of corn could fall by a third. And soybean production and price are expected to follow a similar track.

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The Salt
10:58 am
Tue February 19, 2013

Pictures Don't Lie: Corn And Soybeans Are Conquering U.S. Grasslands

A corn field is shrouded in mist at sunrise in rural Springfield, Neb.
Nati Harnik AP

Originally published on Tue February 19, 2013 1:56 pm

For years, I've been hearing stories about the changing agricultural landscape of the northern plains. Grasslands are disappearing, farmers told me. They're being replaced by fields of corn and soybeans.

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The Salt
4:28 am
Mon February 18, 2013

Farmer's Fight With Monsanto Reaches The Supreme Court

Vernon Hugh Bowman lives outside the small town of Sandborn, Ind.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon February 18, 2013 8:35 pm

This week, the Supreme Court will take up a classic David-and-Goliath case. On one side, there's a 75-year-old farmer in Indiana named Vernon Hugh Bowman; on the other, the agribusiness giant Monsanto.

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The Salt
8:36 am
Tue February 12, 2013

Why Russia Is Saying 'Nyet' To U.S. Meat Exports

A man buys meat at a butcher's stand in Moscow's Dorogomilovsky market in 2011. On Monday, Russia began blocking U.S. meat imports until those imports are ractopamine-free.
Natalia Kolesnikova AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 14, 2013 1:36 pm

Chances are, you've never heard of ractopamine. But as of Monday, U.S. meat exports to Russia — worth $500 million dollars a year — have been suspended, all because of this obscure chemical.

Russian officials say American meat products won't be allowed into their country unless the meat is certified free of ractopamine.

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The Salt
4:30 pm
Mon February 11, 2013

Pig Manure Reveals More Reason To Worry About Antibiotics

Pigs at a farm in Beijing peer out at visitors. Half of all the pigs in the world live in China.
Ng Han Guan AP

Originally published on Wed February 13, 2013 2:52 pm

There's a global campaign to force meat producers to rein in their use of antibiotics on pigs, chickens and cattle. European countries, especially Denmark and the Netherlands, have taken the lead. The U.S. is moving, haltingly, toward similar restrictions.

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Shots - Health News
5:36 pm
Wed January 30, 2013

Gut Microbes May Play Deadly Role In Malnutrition

Researchers followed 300 sets of twins in Malawi for the first three years of their life. In many cases, only one twin developed severe malnutrition, while the other remained healthier.
Photograph courtesy of Tanya Yatsunenko

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 10:44 am

There's a part of our body that's only now getting mapped: the trillions of microbes, mostly bacteria, that live in our guts.

Some scientists describe this community as a previously unnoticed vital organ. It appears to play a role in how quickly we gain weight and how well we fight off disease.

A study published in the journal Science suggests that changes in this community of microbes also may cause kwashiorkor, a kind of deadly malnutrition.

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The Salt
12:02 pm
Tue January 29, 2013

Why Chicken Wings Dominate Super Bowl Snack Time

Blame sports bars for the chicken wing boom, especially on Super Bowl Sunday.
jeffreyw Flickr.com

Take a look at this remarkable graph — is it the stock market? Home sales?

Nope. Click on the blue box in the lower right-hand corner and you'll see that the blue line tracks the number of chicken wings that Americans bought at grocery stores over the last year. See that mighty surge of wing-buying in early February? Apparently, you just cannot have a Super Bowl party without chicken wings — millions and millions of chicken wings.

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