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.

Pages

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.

Read more

5:03am

Fri June 12, 2015
The Salt

Organic Farmers Call Foul On Whole Foods' Produce Rating System

Originally published on Fri June 12, 2015 1:38 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."

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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."

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

4:30pm

Tue January 13, 2015
The Salt

GMO Potatoes Have Arrived. But Will Anyone Buy Them?

Originally published on Tue February 24, 2015 7:30 pm

After a turn in the tumbling machine, these conventional russet Burbank potatoes are starting to show signs of bruising. New GMO potatoes called Innate russet Burbanks have been bred not to bruise as easily as these.
Dan Charles NPR

On the face of it, the new potato varieties called "Innate" seem attractive. If you peel the brown skin off their white flesh, you won't find many unsightly black spots. And when you fry them, you'll probably get a much smaller dose of a potentially harmful chemical.

But here's the catch: Some of the biggest potato buyers in the country, such as Frito-Lay and McDonald's, seem afraid to touch these potatoes. Others don't even want to talk about them because they are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Read more

3:26am

Mon January 12, 2015
The Salt

Iowa's Largest City Sues Over Farm Fertilizer Runoff In Rivers

Originally published on Mon January 26, 2015 7:09 pm

The city of Des Moines, Iowa, sits on the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. The city's water works says it will sue three neighboring counties for high nitrate levels in these waterways.
iStockphoto

Des Moines, Iowa, is confronting the farms that surround it over pollution in two rivers that supply the city with drinking water. Des Moines Water Works says it will sue three neighboring counties for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. It's a novel attempt to control fertilizer runoff from farms, which has been largely unregulated.

Read more

6:12pm

Mon December 29, 2014
The Salt

How California's New Rules Are Scrambling The Egg Industry

Originally published on Tue December 30, 2014 12:34 pm

These "enriched cages" from the JS West farm in Atwater, Calif., in 2011 comply with the state's new law. They are larger and allow chickens to perch and lay eggs in enclosed spaces.
Jill Benson AP

Within just a few days, on Jan. 1, all eggs sold in California will have to come from chickens that live in more spacious quarters — almost twice as spacious, in fact, as the cages that have been the industry standard.

It's been a shock to the egg industry, and to grocery stores. Eggs are one of those staples that self-respecting grocery retailers absolutely, positively have to keep in stock. "You have to have bread, milk, lettuce. You have to have eggs," says Ronald Fong, the president and CEO of the California Grocers Association.

Read more

3:27am

Thu December 25, 2014
The Salt

Inside The Indiana Megadairy Making Coca-Cola's New Milk

Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 11:47 am

Cows rotate in the milking parlor at Fair Oaks Farms, a large-scale dairy and tourist attraction, near Rensselaer, Ind.
Dan Charles NPR

Coca-Cola got a lot of attention in November when it announced that it was going into the milk business. Not just any milk, mind you: nutritious, reformulated supermilk.

It also invited ridicule. "It's like they got Frankenstein to lactate," scoffed Stephen Colbert on his show. "If this product doesn't work out, they can always re-introduce Milk Classic."

Read more

3:25am

Mon December 15, 2014
The Salt

Congress To Nutritionists: Don't Talk About The Environment

Originally published on Tue December 23, 2014 1:38 pm

A government-appointed group of top nutrition experts, assigned to lay the scientific groundwork for a new version of the nation's dietary guidelines, decided earlier this year to collect data on the environmental implication of different food choices.

Congress now has slapped them down.

Read more

11:43am

Fri December 12, 2014
The Salt

Aerial Photos Are New Weapon In Organic Civil War

Originally published on Fri December 12, 2014 6:11 pm

The Cornucopia Institute commissioned this photo of an organic egg producer in Saranac, Mich. According to Cornucopia, the facility is owned by Herbruck's Poultry Ranch, which has a license to maintain up to 1 million chickens on this site.
Courtesy of The Cornucopia Institute

If you look at it one way, these are the best of times for organic egg and milk producers. They can barely keep up with demand. Prices for their products are high. Profits are rolling in. Operations are expanding.

But that expansion is provoking suspicion, name-calling, and even clandestine investigations within the organic "community" because some organic advocates believe that some of these megafarms are not truly organic.

Read more

1:05pm

Mon December 8, 2014
The Salt

Fringe No More: 'Ancient Grains' Will Soon Be A Cheerios Variety

Originally published on Wed December 10, 2014 10:26 am

The new box of Cheerios + Ancient grains cereal.
General Mills

So-called "ancient grains" have moved with breathtaking momentum from America's culinary dissident fringe toward the mainstream — and now they've arrived. After all, what's more mainstream than Cheerios? In January, General Mills will introduce a new version of its flagship breakfast cereal, called Cheerios + Ancient Grains.

The new version of Cheerios will contain small amounts of quinoa, Kamut wheat and spelt along with the traditional oats.

Read more

3:50pm

Fri December 5, 2014
The Salt

Why Did Vitamins Disappear From Non-GMO Breakfast Cereal?

Originally published on Sat December 6, 2014 6:18 am

The Original Grape-Nuts, which now bear a non-GMO label, no longer contain vitamins A, D, B-12 and B-2.
Claire Eggers NPR

Remember when Cheerios and Grape-Nuts went GMO-free? That was about a year ago, when their corporate creators announced that these products would no longer contain ingredients made from genetically modified organisms like common types of corn, soybeans or sugar beets.

Read more

5:28pm

Thu December 4, 2014
The Salt

Who Made That Flavor? Maybe A Genetically Altered Microbe

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 3:42 pm

Mattheos Koffas (left), a biochemical engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Andrew Jones, a graduate student in his lab, with a flask of microbe-produced antioxidants.
Dan Charles NPR

For practically our whole history of cooking and eating, we've gotten our spices and most flavors (not to mention all of the other basic nutrients that keep us alive) straight from plants.

But researchers and biotech companies are starting to produce some of these nutrients and flavors — especially the high-priced ones — in their laboratories.

Read more

Pages