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

The Salt
10:28 pm
Wed December 19, 2012

The Paradox And Mystery Of Our Taste For Salt

Bali sea salt and a spoonful of Hawaiian red alae salt.
Jim Noelker AP

Originally published on Thu December 20, 2012 6:37 am

Salt is one of those dangerously tasty substances. We add the magical crystals of sodium chloride to almost everything that we cook or bake, and according to many public health experts, we add too much.

They want us to cut back, to lower our risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Yet when you really start looking for ways to do this, you run into a paradox and a scientific puzzle.

First, the paradox. Too much salt may kill us, but our bodies need some of it to survive.

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The Salt
6:02 am
Wed December 19, 2012

Peak Farmland? Some Researchers Say It's Here

A soybean field near Campo Verde in western Brazil in January 2011. Researchers argue that enough arable land is already under cultivation to feed the planet for the next several decades.
Yasuyoshi Chiba AFP/GettyImages

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 11:34 am

If you're looking for a dash of optimism about the future — and who isn't, these days? — you can find it in a rosy new prediction about the planet's ability to produce food for the next half-century.

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The Salt
12:15 pm
Mon December 3, 2012

Can Big Food Kick Its Obesity Habit? Does It Really Want To?

A sign protesting a beverage tax in Richmond, Calif. The U.S. soft drink industry has fought proposals that would put a tax on sugar sweetened beverages like sodas and energy drinks.
Braden Reddall Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Tue December 4, 2012 8:11 am

A few days ago, two big names in food policy squared off for a formal debate on the following proposition: There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the food and beverage industry's interests and public health policy interests on obesity.

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The Salt
10:33 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Why Greek Yogurt Makers Want Whey To Go Away

Most of the gleaming steel tanks outside Fage's yogurt factory hold milk. One, however, holds the yogurt byproduct whey.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 8:45 am

A few months ago, I let you in on a little secret about Greek yogurt. Not all of this extra-thick, protein-rich yogurt is made the old-style way, by straining liquid out of it it. Some companies are creating that rich taste by adding thickeners, such as powdered protein and starch.

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The Salt
9:40 am
Tue November 20, 2012

Coconut Conservationist Seeks Pacific Islands For Fun And Palm Preservation

The diversity of coconut trees like these planted along the beach in the northern Philippines is in danger, but a French scientist has a plan.
Jay Directo AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 3:59 am

French adventurer-scientist Roland Bourdeix has a grand, almost surreal, vision for how to preserve a thousand or more genetic varieties of coconut trees. Imagine, as he does, turning dozens or hundreds of remote Pacific islands into coconut sanctuaries. Each island would contain just a few varieties of these trees. No others would be allowed, because the whole point of this exercise is to prevent uncontrolled mixing of genes from different varieties.

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The Salt
12:06 pm
Fri November 16, 2012

EPA Says Its Ethanol Rules Aren't Driving Up Food Prices

A sign on the pump advertises the ethanol content of the gasoline as a motorist reaches for the gas pump in his truck at a filling station in Bellmead, Texas.
LM Otero AP

Originally published on Sun November 18, 2012 10:47 am

The ethanol industry is happy with the Environmental Protection Agency today. If you're worried about the price of meat, though, you may not be so pleased.

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The Salt
11:41 am
Thu November 8, 2012

You Can Thank A Whey Refinery For That Protein Smoothie

Tim Opper, of Cabot Cheese, inspects equipment that separates whey protein from sugar in the company's whey processing plant.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Fri November 9, 2012 4:52 am

If you've ever checked the ingredient list on a PowerBar or a high-protein smoothie, you probably have stumbled across these words: "Whey protein concentrate." You'll find it in a growing number of prepared foods.

This mysterious ingredient is derived from one of the oldest of human foods — milk. But capturing it requires huge factories that look more like oil refineries than farms.

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The Two-Way
12:07 pm
Tue October 30, 2012

As Sandy's Snow Buries W.Va. Town, 'Everybody Just Pitches In'

From left, Dale McKey, Karin McKey and George Secrist return home from an outing into the snow on Tuesday.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Tue October 30, 2012 1:09 pm

It's not easy to get around the back roads of West Virginia right now. Our four-wheel drive couldn't make it up the hill to David Arnold's place near Fayetteville, so he came down to get us in his Chevy Tahoe.

We spin through the snow, through archways made of broken tree branches. The drive is worth the effort; Arnold runs a whitewater rafting business, and he lives right on the edge of the New River gorge.

From his back porch, we can look 900 feet down to the river or 3,000 feet straight across, through falling snow to the other side. It's just gorgeous.

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The Salt
7:03 am
Fri October 19, 2012

Sugar Beet Labor Battles Spill Out Onto The National Stage

Supporters of American Crystal Sugar Co. workers, who have been locked out of the company's sugar beet processing plants since 2011, rally in the North Dakota Capitol.
Dale Wetzel AP

It's not just nutritionists who have a problem with sugar these days, so does organized labor. The AFL-CIO is calling for a boycott of one the country's biggest sugar producers, the American Crystal Sugar Company, based in Moorhead, Minn.

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The Salt
6:53 am
Thu October 18, 2012

Top Five Myths Of Genetically Modified Seeds, Busted

Central Illinois corn and soybean farmer Gary Niemeyer readies his genetically modified seed corn for spring planting at his farm near Auburn, Ill.
Seth Perlman AP

Originally published on Thu October 18, 2012 12:49 pm

Having just stepped into the shouting match over patents on genetically engineered crops, there are a few small things that I, too, would like to get off my chest.

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The Salt
7:02 am
Tue October 16, 2012

Farmer Tackling Monsanto's Seed Policy Gets A Day In Supreme Court

Many folks protest Monsanto's business practices, like this Greenpeace protester spraying paint on a company research soybean field in Iowa.
John Gaps III AP

Originally published on Wed February 13, 2013 5:57 am

Why do so many people hate Monsanto?

Is it because this multinational corporation pioneered some enormously successful genetically engineered crops, including corn, soybeans and cotton?

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The Salt
11:23 am
Thu October 11, 2012

How A Sleepy Pennsylvania Town Grew Into America's Mushroom Capital

Four hundred million pounds of mushrooms come from farms in Chester County, Pa.
Eliza Barclay NPR

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 12:13 pm

Here's an astonishing fact: Half of America's mushrooms are grown in one tiny corner of southeastern Pennsylvania, near the town of Kennett Square.

But why? It's not as though this place has some special advantage of climate or soil, the kind of thing that led to strawberry fields in Watsonville, Calif., or peach orchards in Georgia. Mushrooms can grow indoors. They could come from anywhere.

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The Salt
3:03 am
Mon October 8, 2012

Honey, The Americans Shrank The Apple Trees

American apple growers realized that if they used dwarfing rootstocks and planted their trees closer together, they could increase their harvest of apples per acre by 200 to 300 percent.
Catalin Petolea iStockphoto.com

When Zarrina Mulloboeva got invited to go apple picking the other day, she thought it would be a taste of home. She's an exchange student from Tajikistan, in central Asia — a country close to the ancestral homeland of apples. Her uncle has a small orchard. In fact, when Mulloboeva came to the United States six weeks ago, she brought with her a large bottle of homemade dried apple slices.

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The Salt
10:15 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

In Haiti, Aid Groups Squabble Over Rival Peanut Butter Factories

Alex E. Proimos Flickr.com

Originally published on Fri October 5, 2012 11:00 am

Can there be too much life-saving peanut butter?

In Haiti, two different humanitarian groups have built new factories to make this product, which is used to treat severe malnutrition and maybe someday prevent it. The problem is, Haiti doesn't appear to need two of them. Each factory, all by itself, could satisfy Haiti's current demand.

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The Salt
8:25 am
Thu October 4, 2012

The Cost Of Saving Lives With Local Peanuts In Haiti

Alex E. Proimos flickr

Originally published on Fri October 5, 2012 11:05 am

How much extra would you pay for local food? It's a familiar question. We face it practically every time we shop for groceries, either at the store or at the farmers market. But what about food that can save the lives of severely malnourished children?

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Shots - Health Blog
10:43 pm
Wed October 3, 2012

The Peanut Butter Cure Moves From Hospital To Snack Room

Renande Raphael, aged 16 months, is measured to check whether she is growing normally. As part of a new trial, she's receiving an extra daily snack of enriched peanut butter.
Alex E. Proimos via flickr

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 5:19 am

Just over a decade ago, a French doctor invented a treatment for severely malnourished children that had a revolutionary, life-saving impact.

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The Salt
12:18 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

Lawsuit Claims Pork Producers Council Scammed $60 Million From Farmers

"The Other White Meat" slogan has been a popular promotion for pork since the 1980s. But a recent lawsuit raises questions about who owns it and who pays.
ugod Flickr.com

You know that ad campaign for pork, the one that called it "the other white meat?" There's a fascinating behind-the-scenes story about that slogan, revealed in a new lawsuit that was just filed this morning by the Humane Society of the United States.

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The Salt
5:16 am
Thu September 20, 2012

As Scientists Question New Rat Study, GMO Debate Rages On

Italian farmer Giorgio Fidenato picks up what's left of his genetically altered corn after anti-GMO activists trampled it, back in 2010.
Paolo Giovannini AP

The headlines on the press releases that started showing up yesterday, here at The Salt certainly got our attention. Just one sample: "BREAKING NEWS: New Study Links Genetically Engineered Food to Tumors."

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The Salt
5:10 am
Fri September 14, 2012

How African Cattle Herders Wiped Out An Ancient Plague

Scientist Robert Koch holding a post-mortem on an ox thought to have died of rinderpest, circa 1900.
Reinhold Thiele Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 9:45 am

Twice in all of history, humans have managed to eradicate a devastating disease. You've heard of the first one, I suspect: smallpox. But rinderpest?

That's a German word for "cattle plague" a feared companion of cattle throughout history. When outbreaks occurred, as in Europe of the 1700s or Africa in the 1880s, entire herds were wiped out and communities went hungry. Now the disease is gone, eliminated from the face of the earth.

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The Salt
12:14 pm
Thu August 30, 2012

On the Farmers Market Frontier, It's Not Just About Profit

On a corner in Washington, D.C., where stores burned during riots 44 years ago, there's now a plaza where farmers sell produce on Saturday mornings.
Dan Charles/NPR

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 5:30 am

Farmers markets are popping up in cities all across the country, and people expect lots of different things from them: Better food, of course, but also economic development and even friendlier neighborhoods.

At its core, though, the farmers market is a business, and it won't survive unless the farmer makes money.

So what's the key to success for these markets?

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The Salt
9:09 am
Thu August 23, 2012

So, Who Sent Those Sick Cows To The Slaughterhouse?

A security guard opens the gate at the Central Valley Meat Co., the California slaughterhouse recently shut down by federal regulators after they received a graphic video of cows being mistreated.
Gosia Wozniacka AP

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 6:00 am

Federal regulators and fast-food companies reacted with unprecedented speed this week to the release of an undercover video that animal-rights activists shot inside a California slaughterhouse. The video — which, we'll warn you, is pretty graphic — shows employees of Central Valley Meat Co. using electric prods repeatedly on cattle that appeared unable to get to their feet.

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The Salt
10:24 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

How A Biofuel Dream Called Jatropha Came Crashing Down

A man harvests fruits of the Jatropha tree in Taabo, Ivory Coast. Jatropha, which is grown in many parts of the world, has fallen from favor as a diesel fuel substitute.
Kambou Sia AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 5:37 am

From Congress to The Colbert Report, people are talking about the Midwestern drought and debating whether it makes sense to convert the country's shrinking corn supplies into ethanol to power our cars.

It's the latest installment of the long-running food vs. fuel battle.

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The Salt
10:34 am
Wed August 15, 2012

Saving Lives In Africa With The Humble Sweet Potato

Sweet potato evangelist Maria Isabel Andrade from the International Potato Center drives around Mozambique in her orange Toyota Land Cruiser.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 6:26 am

A regular old orange-colored sweet potato might not seem too exciting to many of us.

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The Salt
10:40 am
Tue August 14, 2012

Secret Side Of The Drought: Many Corn Farmers Will Benefit

President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (second from right) inspect drought-damaged corn on the McIntosh farm in Missouri Valley, Iowa.
Carolyn Kaster AP

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 6:28 am

You've all heard a lot about this year's devastating drought in the Midwest, right? The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last Friday that the average U.S. cornfield this year will yield less per acre than it has since 1995. Soybean yields are down, too.

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The Salt
9:09 am
Wed August 8, 2012

Here's Where Farms Are Sucking The Planet Dry

Check out some of the world's most important - and threatened - aquifers. Click to see a high-resolution version of this map.
Nature

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 12:49 pm

This map is disturbing, once you understand it. It's a new attempt to visualize an old problem — the shrinking of underground water reserves, in most cases because farmers are pumping out water to irrigate their crops.

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Environment
2:28 am
Thu July 26, 2012

In Drought-Stricken Midwest, It's Fodder Vs. Fuel

Originally published on Thu July 26, 2012 5:35 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In the Midwest, the drought is doing a number on the nation's biggest agricultural crop, corn. The USDA says half of the country's cornfields are in poor or very poor condition, and the short supply is driving up the price. Now, a fight between livestock farmers and ethanol producers over the high priced corn crop. Farmers say ethanol factories have an unfair advantage.

NPR's Dan Charles reports.

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The Salt
10:39 am
Wed July 25, 2012

Meat Producers And, Ultimately, Consumers Hurt By Drought

These piglets on the Hardin farm in Danville, Ind., are going to cost more to feed than they will fetch at market.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Thu July 26, 2012 1:13 pm

Despite headlines about the crushing drought that's afflicting much of the country's prime agricultural land, the USDA isn't expecting any dramatic increases in the price of food this year or next.

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The Salt
12:19 pm
Thu July 19, 2012

As Drought Kills Corn, Farmers Fight Over Ethanol

Stunted corn grows in a field next to a cattle feed lot in rural Springfield, Omaha, Neb.
Nati Harnik AP

We often talk about the "farm lobby" as though farmers spoke with a unified voice. And it's true, they usually try to.

But an unusually bitter and public fight is breaking out right now between the farmers who grow corn and other farmers who need to buy that corn.

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Food
11:25 am
Thu June 14, 2012

Mozambique Farmland Is Prize In Land Grab Fever

Young boys thresh soybeans by hand in Ruasse.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Fri June 15, 2012 10:37 am

First of a two-part series. Read part 2.

In these days of financial uncertainty, the hot new investment tip is farmland.

Read more

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