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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HPPR Economy and Enterprise
10:38 am
Mon October 21, 2013

Kansas Farmers Commit To Taking Less Water From The Ground

The long arms of pivot irrigation rigs deliver water from the Ogallala Aquifer to circular fields of corn in northwestern Kansas.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Tue October 22, 2013 7:38 am

If you've flown across Nebraska, Kansas or western Texas on a clear day, you've seen them: geometrically arranged circles of green and brown on the landscape, typically half a mile in diameter. They're the result of pivot irrigation, in which long pipes-on-wheels rotate slowly around a central point, spreading water across cornfields.

Yet most of those fields are doomed. The water that nourishes them eventually will run low.

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The Salt
9:49 am
Thu October 3, 2013

Why Lots Of Grass-Fed Beef Sold In U.S. Comes From Down Under

Patricia Whisnant, who runs Rain Crow Ranch in Doniphan, Mo., says her grass-fed beef can compete with the Australian product because it has a better story American consumers can connect with.
Courtesy of Rain Crow Ranch

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 9:24 am

Beef from cattle that have grazed only on pasture is in high demand — much to the surprise of many meat retailers, who didn't traditionally think of grass-fed beef as top-quality.

George Siemon, a founder of Organic Valley, the big organic food supplier, says the push for grass-fed beef started with activists who wanted to challenge a beef industry dominated by factory-scale feedlots. In those feedlots, cattle are fed a corn-heavy diet designed to make the animals gain weight as quickly as possible.

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The Salt
11:48 am
Thu September 19, 2013

Making Food From Flies (It's Not That Icky)

Black soldier flies mate and lay eggs inside these cages at EnviroFlight.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 4:14 pm

In the quirky little college town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, home to many unconventional ideas over the years, there's now a small insect factory.

It's an unassuming operation, a generic boxy building in a small industrial park. It took me a while even to find a sign with the company's name: EnviroFlight. But its goal is grand: The people at EnviroFlight are hoping that their insects will help our planet grow more food while conserving land and water.

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The Salt
8:23 am
Tue September 17, 2013

Golden Rice Study Violated Ethical Rules, Tufts Says

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 Thu September 19, 2013 1:30 pm

Tufts University announced Tuesday that one of its researchers broke ethical rules while carrying out a study of genetically modified "golden rice" in China.

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The Salt
10:01 pm
Mon September 16, 2013

American Farmers Say They Feed The World, But Do They?

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

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 1:30 pm

When critics of industrial agriculture complain that today's food production is too big and too dependent on pesticides, that it damages the environment and delivers mediocre food, there's a line that farmers offer in response: We're feeding the world.

It's high-tech agriculture's claim to the moral high ground. Farmers say they farm the way they do to produce food as efficiently as possible to feed the world.

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The Salt
11:36 am
Mon September 16, 2013

CDC: Deadliest Drug Resistance Comes From Hospitals, Not Farms

These pigs in Iowa, newly weaned from their mothers, get antibiotics in their water to ward off bacterial infection.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon September 16, 2013 12:29 pm

Here at The Salt, we've been following the controversies that surround antibiotic use on the farm. Farmers give these drugs to chickens, swine and beef cattle, either to keep the animals healthy or to make them grow faster. Critics say it's contributing to an epidemic of drug-resistant bacteria not just on the farm, but among people, too.

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The Salt
1:01 pm
Thu August 29, 2013

Antibiotic Use On The Farm: Are We Flying Blind?

Piglets in a pen on a hog farm in Frankenstein, Mo.
Jeff Roberson AP

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 12:26 pm

There's a heated debate over the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Critics say farmers overuse these drugs; farmers say they don't.

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The Salt
10:21 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

Turning Off The Spigot In Western Kansas Farmland

An irrigation pivot waters a corn field in Nebraska. Many farmers in Nebraska and Kansas rely on irrigation to water their corn fields. But the underground aquifer they draw from will run dry.
Nati Harnik AP

Originally published on Tue August 27, 2013 9:49 am

Across the High Plains, many farmers depend on underground stores of water, and they worry about wells going dry. A new scientific study of western Kansas lays out a predicted timeline for those fears to become reality. But it also shows an alternative path for farming in Kansas: The moment of reckoning can be delayed, and the impact softened, if farmers start conserving water now.

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The Salt
1:07 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

Inside The Beef Industry's Battle Over Growth-Promotion Drugs

Beef cattle stand in a barn on the Larson Farms feedlot in Maple Park, Ill.
Daniel Acker Landov

Originally published on Thu November 21, 2013 11:39 am

When the drug company Merck Animal Health announced plans to suspend sales of its Zilmax feed additive last week, many observers were shocked.

Yet concern about Zilmax and the class of growth-promotion drugs called beta agonists has been building for some time. In an interesting twist, the decisive pressure on Zilmax did not come from animal welfare groups or government regulators: It emerged from within the beef industry itself, and from academic experts who have long worked as consultants to the industry.

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The Salt
1:07 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

Can Quinoa Farming Go Global Without Leaving Andeans Behind?

A man cleans quinoa grain in Pacoma, Bolivia.
Juan Karita AP

Originally published on Fri August 16, 2013 10:53 am

I ate quinoa-and-turkey chili in a cafeteria today, which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing. Rarely does an entire culture, almost overnight, adopt an entirely new food.

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The Salt
11:22 am
Tue August 13, 2013

Chipotle Is Keeping Its Meat Antibiotic-Free After All

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 12:26 pm

For a few hours Tuesday, it appeared that Chipotle Mexican Grill, an ever expanding source of fast food for the ethically conscious consumer, had softened its hard line against antibiotics in meat production.

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The Salt
5:49 am
Tue August 13, 2013

Why Urban Beekeeping Can Be Bad For Bees

Beehive designer Johannes Paul (right) and Natural England's ecologist Peter Massini, with a brood frame colonized with bees from the "beehaus" beehive on the roof of his house in London in 2009.
Sang Tan AP

Originally published on Thu August 15, 2013 12:27 pm

Two British scientists are dumping cold water on campaigns to promote urban beekeeping. They say that trying to "help the bees" by setting out more hives is naive and misguided if the bees can't find enough flowers nearby to feed on. You'll just end up with sick and starving bees.

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The Salt
12:01 pm
Thu August 1, 2013

What Poisoned Pomegranates Tell Us About Food Safety

The label for the berry blend recalled in June because of pomegranates linked to a hepatitis A outbreak.
Food and Drug Administration

Originally published on Thu August 1, 2013 12:48 pm

Imported food is getting the kind of attention these days that no product wants. Health officials in Iowa and Nebraska are blaming salad greens for making hundreds of people sick with a parasite called cyclospora. That parasite usually comes from the tropics, so it's likely the salad did, too. Earlier this summer, pomegranate seeds from Turkey were linked to an outbreak of hepatitis A.

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The Salt
6:59 am
Thu July 25, 2013

The FDA Doesn't Want Chickens To Explore The Great Outdoors

Free-range chickens feed in a pasture on an organic farm in Illinois.
Seth Perlman AP

Originally published on Wed July 31, 2013 10:51 am

Organic egg farmers are divided in their reaction to a new FDA proposal that's intended to reduce the risk of salmonella infection among free-roaming chickens. They even disagree about what the document, called "Guidance for Industry," actually requires.

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The Salt
10:00 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

In Oregon, The GMO Wheat Mystery Deepens

Wheat grows in a test field at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Some scientists believe that there's a chance that genetically modified wheat found in one farmer's field in May is still in the seed supply.
Natalie Behring Bloomberg via Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 18, 2013 11:34 am

The strange case of genetically engineered wheat on a farm in Oregon remains as mysterious as ever. If anything, it's grown more baffling.

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The Salt
1:01 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 12:25 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
10:39 pm
Mon July 8, 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 9:56 am

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
11:27 am
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 4:32 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
2:41 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 9:16 am

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
10:39 am
Wed June 19, 2013

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

James Finley AP

Originally published on Wed June 19, 2013 10:41 am

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
8:25 am
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 8:33 am

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
10:20 pm
Thu May 30, 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 5:54 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
10:05 pm
Wed May 29, 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 9:03 am

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
3:03 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
12:47 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Congress: Where Food Reforms Go To Die?

Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 1:17 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
1:03 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 5:56 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
11:55 am
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 12:02 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
2:10 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

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
9:57 pm
Thu April 25, 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 10:47 am

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
10:20 pm
Tue April 23, 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 10:50 am

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.

Read more

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