Daniel 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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5:24pm

Wed July 22, 2015
The Salt

Eggs Go AWOL, And Bakers Scramble For High-Tech Substitutes

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 9:11 am

The hard part of making an egg replacement product is coming up with a substitute for the protein in egg whites.
Wilson Hui Flickr

Strolling through the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists the other day, I saw several signs offering to solve an urgent problem American bakers face. The signs advertised "egg replacement."

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4:06pm

Mon July 20, 2015
The Salt

The Ancient City Where People Decided To Eat Chickens

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 1:51 pm

Lee Perry-Gal measures chicken long bones at the zooarchaeology lab, Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa.
Courtesy of Guy Bar-Oz

An ancient, abandoned city in Israel has revealed part of the story of how the chicken turned into one of the pillars of the modern Western diet.

The city, now an archaeological site, is called Maresha. It flourished in the Hellenistic period from 400 to 200 BCE.

"The site is located on a trade route between Jerusalem and Egypt," says Lee Perry-Gal, a doctoral student in the department of archaeology at the University of Haifa. As a result, it was a meeting place of cultures, "like New York City," she says.

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6:15pm

Thu July 16, 2015
The Salt

The Sad, Stately Photo Of Nixon's Resignation Lunch

Originally published on Mon July 20, 2015 11:49 am

On the day that he announced his resignation, Richard Nixon ordered cottage cheese, pineapple slices and a glass of milk.
Robert Knudsen Nixon Library

On the quest for cottage cheese trivia this week for my story for Morning Edition, I asked our research department for help. Researcher Barclay Walsh sent me a photo that stopped me in my tracks.

Take a look. Notice the official White House emblem on the plate. The silver platter. The sculpted ball of cottage cheese encircled by slices of pineapple, perhaps canned. The glass of milk.

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11:03am

Thu July 16, 2015
The Salt

The Fall Of A Dairy Darling: How Cottage Cheese Got Eclipsed By Yogurt

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 1:52 pm

Cottage cheese peaked in the early 1970s, when the average American ate about 5 pounds of it per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
iStockphoto

As you know, here at The Salt we've been a little obsessed with yogurt lately.

But there's a flip side to the story of the yogurt boom. What about that other product made from fermented milk that had its boom from 1950 to 1975, and has been sliding into obscurity ever since?

Cottage cheese took off as a diet and health food in the 1950s.

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5:08am

Wed July 15, 2015
The Salt

Hey Yogurt-Maker, Where'd You Get Those Microbes?

Originally published on Wed July 15, 2015 8:25 am

Historic yogurt-making cultures held by Mirjana Curic-Bawden.
Dan Charles NPR

Yogurt is a truly living food. The bacteria that transform milk into this thick and sour food also provide a sense of mystique.

For Atanas Valev, they carry the taste and smell of his homeland, Bulgaria. "It's just the smell of the fermented milk. It's tart, tangy tart. That's what yogurt should taste like," he says.

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3:37am

Mon July 13, 2015
The Salt

A Crime Of Passion: When The Love Of Yogurt Burned Too Bright

Originally published on Mon July 13, 2015 12:48 pm

Adolfo Valle for NPR

Two years ago, in the middle of the night, a fire broke out in a commercial building on the northern edge of the city of Dallas. It destroyed a small yogurt company called Three Happy Cows.

Two months later, Edgar Diaz, the founder of Three Happy Cows, confessed that he'd set the fire. Yet people who knew Diaz, and had worked with him, could not believe it.

"I was like, Edgar did that? No way! No way. No way," says Ruth Cruz, who worked at Three Happy Cows.

"No. No. It was his baby. Couldn't imagine," says Don Seale, who supplied milk to the factory.

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4:56pm

Thu July 9, 2015
The Salt

Buzz Kill For Bumblebees: Climate Change Is Shrinking Their Range

Originally published on Fri July 10, 2015 2:54 pm

A bumblebee collects pollen from a flower. New evidence suggests climate change has left bumblebees with a shrinking range of places to live.
Yuri Kadobnovy AFP/Getty Images

There's new evidence that wild bees, some of nature's most industrious pollinators of wildflowers and crops, are getting squeezed by our planet's changing climate.

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6:13pm

Thu July 2, 2015
The Salt

White House: We Have A Beef With GMO Regulations

About 90 percent of America's soybeans are genetically modified.
iStockphoto

The U.S. government's system for regulating the products of biotechnology, including GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, was born in 1986, and it has been controversial from the start. Now, it will be getting a makeover — in part to assure the public that GMOs really are adequately regulated.

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3:16pm

Thu July 2, 2015
The Salt

Do Organic Farmers Need Special Seeds And Money To Breed Them?

"Who Gets Kissed" corn is a variety bred in Wisconsin specifically for organic farmers. It's named for an old game. At corn husking time, a lucky person who found a rare ear of corn with red kernels had the right to kiss anyone that he or she chose.
Courtesy of Adrienne Shelton

Rearranging veggie genes is big business, and we're not even talking about biotechnology. Private companies and university researchers spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year breeding better genetic varieties of food crops.

But organic farmers say those programs have a big blind spot when it comes to figuring out which new varieties are truly better. Few companies or researchers test those varieties under organic conditions.

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4:57pm

Fri June 12, 2015
The Salt

Mighty Farming Microbes: Companies Harness Bacteria To Give Crops A Boost

Originally published on Fri June 12, 2015 8:55 pm

Pam Marrone (right), founder and CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations, inspects some colonies of microbes. Marrone has spent most of her professional life prospecting for microbial pesticides and bringing them to market.
Dan Charles/NPR

What if farmers, instead of picking up some agricultural chemicals at their local dealer, picked up a load of agricultural microbes instead?

It's something to contemplate, because some big names in the pesticide business — like Bayer and Monsanto — are putting money behind attempts to turn soil microbes into tools that farmers can use to give their crops a boost.

It's a symptom of the soaring interest in the ways microbes affect all of life. In our bodies, they help fight off disease. In the soil, they help deliver nutrients to plants, and perhaps much more.

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5:03am

Fri June 12, 2015
The Salt

Organic Farmers Call Foul On Whole Foods' Produce Rating System

Originally published on Sun June 14, 2015 3:20 pm

Whole Foods says its new rating system is a way to talk to farmers and customers about issues that the organic rules don't encompass, like water, energy, labor and waste.
Dan Charles NPR

Nobody really likes to be graded. Especially when you don't get an A.

Some organic farmers are protesting a new grading system for produce and flowers that's coming into force at Whole Foods. They say it devalues the organic label and could become an "existential threat."

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4:08pm

Tue June 9, 2015
The Salt

Monsanto, Angling For Global Pesticide Dominance, Woos Syngenta

Originally published on Tue June 9, 2015 5:18 pm

Central Illinois corn and soybean farmer Tim Seifert loads his field planter with Syngenta insecticide while planting seed corn in 2011. Monsanto has made a bid to buy Syngenta for its pesticide business.
Seth Perlman AP

Selling seeds and pesticides used to be a sleepy, slow-moving business. That was, until about 20 years ago, when the chemical company Monsanto introduced genetically modified crops and started buying up seed companies. Ever since, companies in this industry have been maneuvering like hungry fish in a pond, occasionally dining on pieces of each other, hoping to survive through size and speed.

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5:58pm

Wed May 20, 2015
The Salt

FDA Wants To Pull Back The Curtain, Slightly, On Farm Antibiotics

Originally published on Wed May 20, 2015 9:16 pm

Cattle that are grass-fed and free of antibiotics and growth hormones are seen at Kookoolan Farm in Yamhill, Ore.
Don Ryan AP

Farmers and public health advocates have been arguing for many years now about the use of antibiotics on farm animals, yet that argument takes place in a fog of uncertainty, because a lot of information simply isn't available.

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3:42pm

Thu April 30, 2015
The Salt

Why We Can't Take Chipotle's GMO Announcement All That Seriously

Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 3:06 pm

Chipotle restaurant workers in Miami fill orders on April 27, the day the company said it would use only non-GMO ingredients in its food.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Chipotle is trumpeting its renunciation of ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The company says that using GMOs — mainly corn in its tortillas and soybean oil for cooking — "doesn't align" with its vision of "food with integrity." According to Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold, it represents "our commitment to serving our customers the very best ingredients we can find."

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5:47pm

Tue April 21, 2015
The Salt

Millions Of Chickens To Be Killed As Bird Flu Outbreak Puzzles Industry

Originally published on Wed April 22, 2015 1:08 pm

Chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart, Iowa, in 2009. This week, bird flu hit a large poultry facility in Iowa. It's not clear how the virus is evading the industry's biosecurity efforts.
Charlie Neibergall AP

Bird flu has been striking chicken and turkey farms in parts of the West and Midwest. This past week, it hit a flock of millions egg-laying chickens in northeastern Iowa. Update 4/22/2015: The USDA now says that around 3 million birds were affected in the Iowa facility — down from a previous estimate of 5 million.

Our original post continues below.

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3:35am

Wed April 15, 2015
The Salt

Redistribute California's Water? Not Without A Fight

Originally published on Sun April 26, 2015 11:49 pm

Workers pick asparagus in early April at Del Bosque Farms in Firebaugh, Calif. This year, some farmers in the state will get water, others won't, based on when their land was first irrigated.
David Paul Morris Bloomberg/Getty Images

The state of California is asking a basic question right now that people often fight over: What's a fair way to divide up something that's scarce and valuable? That "something," in this case, is water.

There's a lot at stake, including your very own nuts, fruits and vegetables, because most of the water that's up for grabs in California goes to farmers. This year, some farmers will get water, and others will not, simply based on when their land was first irrigated.

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7:25am

Sun April 12, 2015
The Salt

Beyond Almonds: A Rogue's Gallery of Guzzlers In California's Drought

Originally published on Sun April 26, 2015 3:14 pm

Leif Parsons for NPR

California is parched. Wells are running dry. Vegetable fields have been left fallow and lawns are dying. There must be some villain behind all this, right?

Of course there is. In fact, have your pick. As a public service, The Salt is bringing you several of the leading candidates. They have been nominated by widely respected national publications and interest groups.

There's just one problem: Not all of these shady characters live up to their nefarious job description. Let us explain.

1. Almonds

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1:04pm

Wed March 25, 2015
The Salt

Meet The Cool Beans Designed To Beat Climate Change

Originally published on Wed March 25, 2015 5:16 pm

These beans, grown on test plots at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, can thrive in temperatures that cripple most conventional beans.
Courtesy of CIAT/Neil Palmer

A planet that is warming at extraordinary speed may require extraordinary new food crops. The latest great agricultural hope is beans that can thrive in temperatures that cripple most conventional beans. They're now growing in test plots of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, or CIAT, in Colombia.

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4:00pm

Tue March 24, 2015
The Salt

A Top Weedkiller Could Cause Cancer. Should We Be Scared?

Central Illinois corn farmer Jerry McCulley refills his sprayer with the weedkiller glyphosate on a farm near Auburn, Ill. A new assessment of the chemical finds that the (uncertain) risks mainly affect the people who work with it or who come in direct contact with areas where it's applied.
Seth Perlman AP

An international committee of cancer experts shocked the agribusiness world a few days ago when it announced that two widely used pesticides are "probably carcinogenic to humans." The well-respected International Agency for Research on Cancer published a brief explanation of its conclusions in The Lancet and plans to issue a book-length version later this year.

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3:27pm

Fri March 20, 2015
The Salt

Why Los Angeles' Fast Food Ban Did Nothing To Check Obesity

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 2:34 pm

An economist with the Rand Corporation argues that Los Angeles' fast-food ban failed because it merely blocked new construction or expansion of "stand-alone fast-food" restaurants in neighborhoods where that style of restaurant was uncommon to begin with.
David McNew Getty Images

There's a researcher at the RAND Corporation who has been building a reputation as a curmudgeonly skeptic when it comes to trendy ways to fight America's obesity epidemic.

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11:33am

Thu March 19, 2015
The Salt

Cramped Chicken Cages Are Going Away. What Comes Next?

Originally published on Thu March 19, 2015 3:57 pm

Free-range houses allow chickens to move around freely, but operating costs were 23 percent higher than for traditional cages, according to a new study.
Dan Charles NPR

For the past two years, at an undisclosed location in the Upper Midwest, a large commercial egg farm has been probed with every tool of modern science. Researchers have collected data on feed consumed, eggs produced, rates of chicken death and injury, levels of dust in the air, microbial contamination and dollars spent. Graduate students have been assigned to watch hours of video of the hens in an effort to rate the animals' well-being.

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7:36am

Sat March 14, 2015
The Salt

The Family Peach Farm That Became A Symbol Of The Food Revolution

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 1:50 pm

Mas Masumoto grew up on his family farm southeast of Fresno, Calif. His 1987 essay "Epitaph for A Peach," in which he bemoaned the loss of heirloom flavors, captured his changing philosophy as a farmer. It also helped turn his farm into a landmark in the local-food movement.
Dan Charles/NPR

In the heart of California's Central Valley, a vast expanse of orchards, vineyards, and vegetable fields, lies a small collection of aging peach trees. Farmer Mas Masumoto's decision to preserve those trees, and then to write about it, became a symbol of resistance to machine-driven food production.

Yet the Masumoto farm's story isn't just one of saving peaches. It's become a father-daughter saga of claiming, abandoning, and then re-claiming a piece of America's agricultural heritage.

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3:02pm

Sun March 8, 2015
The Salt

FDA Tests Turn Up Dairy Farmers Breaking The Law On Antibiotics

Originally published on Mon March 9, 2015 12:00 pm

FDA tests have turned up residues suggesting a few dairy farmers are illegally using antibiotics.
iStockphoto

When it comes to the current controversy over antibiotic use on farm animals, milk is in a special category.

Lactating cows, unlike hogs, cattle or chickens that are raised for their meat, don't receive antibiotics unless they are actually sick. That's because drug residues immediately appear in the cow's milk — a violation of food safety rules.

Milk shipments are tested for six of the most widely used antibiotics, and any truckload that tests positive is rejected. So when cows are treated, farmers discard their milk for several days until the residues disappear.

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3:42am

Thu February 26, 2015
The Salt

Farmers Fear Legal Status For Workers Would Lead Them Off The Farm

Originally published on Mon March 2, 2015 10:00 am

Nahun Villagomez Sanchez washes freshly dug Red LaSoda potatoes at T&D Willey Farms near Madera, Calif.
Dan Charles NPR

The political battle over immigration, now provoking a confrontation between Congress and the White House, touches all of us in one very direct way: our food. That salad mix, and those apples, may well have been harvested by workers who arrived here in the U.S. illegally.

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5:39pm

Fri February 13, 2015
The Salt

GMO Apples Get The Nod, But Not Much Of A Welcoming Party

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 5:47 pm

Arctic Granny (right), a GMO variety created by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, got the gren light from federal regulators Friday. The apple doesn't turn brown like a conventional Granny Smith apple (left).
Okanagan Specialty Fruits

We have good news for all of you who find browned apple slices unappetizing. It's bad news, though, if you don't like scientists fiddling with your food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given a green light to apples that have been genetically modified so that they don't turn brown when you cut them open.

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5:06pm

Tue February 10, 2015
The Salt

California's Strawberry Feud Ends, But Who Will Breed New Berries?

The future of strawberry breeding at the University of California has been secured. Perhaps.

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5:04am

Mon February 2, 2015
The Salt

Here's How To End Iowa's Great Nitrate Fight

Originally published on Mon February 2, 2015 1:09 pm

A cereal rye cover crop grows (at left) in a field where corn was recently harvested. Cover crops can capture nutrients such as nitrate and prevent them from polluting nearby streams.
Courtesy of Paul Jasa/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Three weeks ago, Sara Carlson was driving to her job in Ames, Iowa, when she turned on the radio and heard me talking about nitrates in Iowa's water.

"And I was like, 'I really hope he nails this,' " she says.

This topic is Carlson's specialty. She works with a group called Practical Farmers of Iowa. These farmers are devoted to farming in ways that protect the environment.

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5:46pm

Fri January 30, 2015
The Salt

The Real Super Sunday Battle Is In The Snack Bowl

Originally published on Fri January 30, 2015 6:11 pm

The defending champion and favorite remains the chicken wing. But underdog snacks like the carrot are trying to elbow their way into the competition.
Leif Parsons for NPR; Source: whologwhy/Flickr

Here at The Salt, we have been overwhelmed with emails brimming with factoids and completely unsubstantiated assertions about the food that Americans will consume on Sunday as they watch gigantic athletes burn through calories at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

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11:45am

Tue January 27, 2015
The Salt

Beef Packers Block Plan To Revive Growth-Promoting Drug

Originally published on Tue January 27, 2015 2:08 pm

Cattle in holding pens at the Simplot feedlot located next to a slaughterhouse in Burbank, Washington on Dec. 26, 2013. Merck & Co Inc is testing lower dosages of its controversial cattle growth drug Zilmax drug in an effort to resume its sales to the $44 billion U.S. beef industry.
Ross Courtney Reuters/Landov

For more than a year, a once-popular drug that makes cattle put on weight faster has been stuck in a kind of veterinary purgatory.

As far as the Food and Drug Administration is concerned, the drug, Zilmax, is legal to use. But large meat packers, which dominate the industry, have ostracized it after the drug was accused of making animals suffer. The drug's manufacturer, Merck, has been working on a plan to rehabilitate it. But that effort has stalled.

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4:09pm

Mon January 19, 2015
The Salt

Chipotle's Pulled Pork Highlights Debate Over Sow Welfare

Originally published on Sun January 25, 2015 4:47 pm

A sow nurses her piglets in a farrowing crate in an Elite Pork Partnership hog confinement building in Carroll, Iowa, in 2009.
Charlie Neibergall AP

About a third of all Chipotle restaurants are not serving carnitas at the moment, because the restaurant chain has suspended one of its major pork suppliers.

The restaurant chain has declined to identify the supplier and the exact reasons for the suspension. In its official statements, Chipotle said only that the supplier was not in compliance with the company's animal welfare standards.

But when David Maren heard the news, he had a pretty good idea what the problem was.

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