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
3:42 pm
Tue September 16, 2014

Thanks To Nutella, The World Needs More Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts, in all their glory.
Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

Originally published on Wed September 17, 2014 5:48 am

Nutella, that sinfully indulgent chocolate-hazelnut spread, turns 50 this year, and it's come a long way, baby.

There's even a "Nutella bar" in midtown Manhattan, right off Fifth Avenue, tucked inside a grand temple of Italian food called Eataly. There's another Nutella bar at Eataly in Chicago. Here, you can order Nutella on bread, Nutella on a croissant, Nutella on crepes.

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The Salt
8:07 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Food Is Cheap, At Least Compared With 4 Years Ago

Soybeans in a field in Springfield, Neb., on Wednesday. The nation's corn and soybean farmers will bring in by far the largest harvest ever this year, driving down the price of the commodities, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nati Harnik AP

Originally published on Fri September 12, 2014 1:30 pm

Around the globe, it's become easier for people to buy food. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization is reporting that its global food price index has now fallen to the lowest level in four years. That's because of good weather and big harvests in places like North America, Europe and China.

Almost all of the major food commodities have become less expensive: grains, vegetable oils, sugar and dairy products. Dairy prices, in fact, are down by almost 20 percent, compared with their peak a year ago.

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The Salt
4:40 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

Perdue Says Its Hatching Chicks Are Off Antibiotics

Chicks in the Perdue hatchery in Salisbury, Md. The company says an increasing number of its chickens are now raised using "no antibiotics, ever."
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Tue September 9, 2014 1:42 pm

Perdue Farms says it has ditched the common practice of injecting antibiotics into eggs that are just about to hatch. And public health advocates are cheering. They've been campaigning against the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture, arguing that it's adding to the plague of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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The Salt
2:43 am
Thu August 28, 2014

How Foster Farms Is Solving The Case Of The Mystery Salmonella

Bob O'Connor, a Foster Farms veterinarian, holds an 11-day-old chick at a ranch near the town of Merced, in California's Central Valley.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Tue September 2, 2014 1:42 pm

Foster Farms, California's biggest chicken producer, has been accused of poisoning people with salmonella bacteria. After an outbreak last fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture threatened to shut down three of the company's plants.

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The Salt
4:40 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Diplomats And Lawyers Try To Define 'Culturally Acceptable Food'

Tractors sit on a sugarcane plantation on the land of a Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous community in Brazil, where Oxfam has alleged "land grabs" unfairly take land from the poor. The United Nations is drafting voluntary guidelines for "responsible investment in agriculture and food systems" in response to such concerns.
Tatiana Cardeal Courtesy of Oxfam

Originally published on Wed August 27, 2014 5:31 pm

Here's a fine topic for a graduate seminar in anthropology: What makes food culturally acceptable? Cue discussions of values and taboos, tastes and traditions.

Now make room for diplomats and lawyers, because this question has popped up, improbably, during international negotiations at the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

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The Salt
4:09 pm
Fri August 22, 2014

A Food Crisis Follows Africa's Ebola Crisis

A street market remains empty in Monrovia's West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola in Liberia.
Zoom Dosso AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 22, 2014 10:03 pm

In the shadows of West Africa's Ebola outbreak, food shortages are starting to develop.

This time of year is traditionally the lean season in West Africa, when last year's harvest of rice or groundnuts is mostly exhausted. Until recently, people were quite hopeful about the approaching harvest this year.

"The rainfall situation was very good," says Shukri Ahmed, a senior economist with the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. "We were actually developing an optimistic forecast for crop production this year."

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The Salt
3:30 pm
Thu August 21, 2014

Can Quinoa Take Root On The 'Roof Of The World'?

Grown for thousands of years in South America, quinoa crossed the Atlantic for the first time in the 21st century, according to the United Nations.
iStockphoto.com

For thousands of years, quinoa barely budged from its home in the Andes. Other crops — corn, potatoes, rice, wheat and sorghum — traveled and colonized the world. But quinoa stayed home.

All of a sudden, quinoa is a trendy, jet-setting "superfood." And as we've reported, some American farmers are trying to cash in on its new-found popularity.

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The Salt
4:45 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

When China Spurns GMO Corn Imports, American Farmers Lose Billions

A corn purchaser writes on his account in northwest China in 2012. In November 2013, officials began rejecting imports of U.S. corn when they detected traces of a new gene not yet approved in China.
Peng Zhaozhi Xinhua/Landov

Originally published on Tue August 5, 2014 11:39 am

For a while there, China was the American farmer's best friend. The world's most populous nation had so many pigs and chickens to feed, it became one of the top importers of U.S. corn and soybeans almost overnight.

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The Salt
4:44 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

Moldova's Winemakers Seize Upon Region's Geopolitical Moment

A glass is filled with Moldovan wine at a wine fair in Belgium in 2013.
Yves Logghe AP

Originally published on Wed July 30, 2014 6:33 pm

Consider, for a moment, the misfortunes of winemakers in Moldova, a former Soviet republic in southeastern Europe, tucked in between Ukraine and Romania.

Their country is the poorest in Europe, with a per capita GDP about the same as Honduras. They'd love to sell their product — which has gotten approving nods from foreign critics -- in wealthier countries. But most of those customers don't even know that Moldova exists, let alone that its winemaking tradition goes back thousands of years.

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The Salt
5:15 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Can You Trust That Organic Label On Imported Food?

Investigators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have discovered cases of organic fraud abroad as well as in the U.S. In 2013, 19 farmers or food companies were fined a total of $87,000 for misusing the organic label.
Mark Andersen Rubberball/Corbi

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 5:12 am

Maybe you've wondered, while looking at the price tag on some organic produce, whether that label is telling the truth.

Peter Laufer, a writer and professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, doesn't just wonder. He's an outright skeptic, especially because the organic label seems to him like a license to raise prices. And also because those products are arriving through supply chains that stretch to far corners of the world.

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The Salt
5:51 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

Are Organic Vegetables More Nutritious After All?

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 5:10 pm

There may never be an end to arguments over whether organic food is more nutritious. But a new study is the most ambitious attempt so far to resolve the issue — and it concludes that organic fruit and vegetables offer a key benefit.

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The Salt
4:35 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Is Foster Farms A Food Safety Pioneer Or A Persistent Offender?

Foster Farms set up new procedures to deal with salmonella contamination after the USDA threatened to shut down its plants last fall.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 6:19 pm

Foster Farms, a chicken producer in California, just can't seem to stop bleeding bad news.

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The Salt
9:34 am
Tue July 8, 2014

Globe-Trotting GMO Bananas Arrive For Their First Test In Iowa

Ugandan researcher Stephen Buah and Professor James Dale hold bananas bred to be rich in vitamin A at Queensland University of Technology.
Erika Fish Courtesy of Queensland University of Technology

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 5:53 pm

Somewhere in Iowa, volunteers are earning $900 apiece by providing blood samples after eating bits of a banana kissed with a curious tinge of orange.

It's the first human trial of a banana that's been genetically engineered to contain higher levels of beta carotene, the nutrient that our body converts into vitamin A. Researchers want to confirm that eating the fruit does, in fact, lead to higher vitamin A levels in the volunteers' blood.

The volunteers in Iowa may not realize it, but they're playing a small part in a story that spans the globe.

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The Salt
4:37 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Big Bucks From Strawberry Genes Lead To Conflict At UC Davis

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 5:26 pm

Yesterday, we reported on a legal tussle over control of the country's top center of strawberry breeding, at the University of California, Davis. But there's a backstory to that battle. It involves the peculiar nature of the UC Davis strawberry program.

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The Salt
5:07 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Breeding Battle Threatens Key Source Of California Strawberries

Originally published on Sun July 6, 2014 10:48 pm

In California, a legal skirmish has erupted over strawberries — or rather, over strawberry breeding.

To be absolutely precise, the battle is about strawberry breeding at the University of California, Davis. This is more important than it might sound. More than half of all strawberries in the supermarket trace their ancestry to breeding plots at UC Davis.

The strawberry breeders at UC Davis, who've led that program for decades, are leaving the university to carry on their work at a new private company.

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The Salt
4:49 pm
Tue June 24, 2014

'Natural' Food Sounds Good But Doesn't Mean Much

Advocates say consumers may assume that the "natural" label is the same as "organic."
iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 8:50 am

Some people have had it with "natural" food.

For fifteen years, Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports, has been pointing out that "natural" is just about the most misleading label that you'll ever see on a food package. Yet consumers still look for that word, food companies still love to use it and the Food and Drug Administration can't or won't define it.

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The Salt
4:29 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

In The Making Of Megafarms, A Mixture Of Pride And Pain

When families give up farming and move away, it drains life out of small communities.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Tue June 17, 2014 10:37 am

It seems that everybody, going back at least to Thomas Jefferson, loves small family farms.

Yet those beloved small farms are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Big farms are taking over.

According to the latest census of American agriculture, released this year, there are two million farms in America. But just four percent of those farms account for two-thirds of all agricultural production.

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The Salt
2:51 am
Mon June 16, 2014

Hunting For Alien Bug And Seed Invaders At Baltimore's Port

David Ng (right) and Amanda Furrow, Customs and Border Protection agricultural specialists, inspect wheat for insects and alien seeds at a port in Baltimore, Md.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 8:33 am

Baltimore's seaport is a world of big, noisy steel machines: giant cargo ships, cranes and roaring trucks.

In the middle of this hubbub, David Ng, an agricultural specialist with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, tries to find things that are small and alive: snails, moths and weed seeds of all sorts.

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The Salt
3:06 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

California Farmers Ask: Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Some Water?

Allen Peterson's farm, near the city of Turlock, Calif., lies next to a concrete-lined canal full of water. He's one of the lucky ones.
Dan Charles/NPR

Originally published on Mon June 16, 2014 8:29 am

Imagine if a gallon of milk cost $3 in your town, but 100 miles away it cost $100, or even $200.

Something similar is happening right now in California with water that farmers use to irrigate their crops. Some farmers are paying 50 or even 100 times more for that water than others who live just an hour's drive away.

The situation is provoking debate about whether water in California should move more freely, so that it can be sold to the highest bidder.

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The Salt
3:01 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

California's Drought Isn't Making Food Cost More. Here's Why

Farmworkers pull weeds from a field of lettuce near Gonzales, Calif. Salinas Valley farms like this one rely on wells, which haven't been affected much by the drought.
George Rose Getty Images

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 3:48 pm

The entire state of California is in a severe drought. Farmers and farmworkers are hurting.

You might expect this to cause food shortages and higher prices across the country. After all, California grows 95 percent of America's broccoli, 81 percent of its carrots and 99 percent of the country's artichokes, almonds and walnuts, among other foods.

Yet there's been no sign of a big price shock. What gives?

Here are three explanations.

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The Salt
2:19 am
Wed May 21, 2014

Double Trouble For Coffee: Drought And Disease Send Prices Up

A fully formed coffee berry, left, is shown next to a damaged coffee berry due to drought, at a coffee farm in Santo Antonio do Jardim, Brazil on Feb. 6.
Paulo Whitaker Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed May 21, 2014 8:29 am

If you're drinking a cup of coffee right now, treasure it. The global supply of coffee beans may soon shrink because of problems in coffee-growing areas of Brazil and Central America.

With supply threatened and demand strong, prices are taking flight. Wholesale coffee prices are up more than 60 percent since January — from $1.25 per pound of bulk Coffea arabica beans to $1.85 this week.

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The Salt
3:21 am
Thu May 8, 2014

Less Nutritious Grains May Be In Our Future

Wheat fields like this one could yield wheat with less zinc and iron in the future if they are exposed to higher levels of CO2, according to the journal Nature.
Zaharov Evgeniy iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon May 12, 2014 8:26 am

In the future, Earth's atmosphere is likely to include a whole lot more carbon dioxide. And many have been puzzling over what that may mean for the future of food crops. Now, scientists are reporting that some of the world's most important crops contain fewer crucial nutrients when they grow in such an environment.

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The Salt
1:54 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

No More Bromine: Coke, Pepsi Drop Controversial Ingredient

A Change.org petition labeled brominated vegetable oil, used in sports drinks like Gatorade, a "fire retardant chemical."
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 8:54 am

Chalk up another win for citizen activists. Coke and Pepsi announced this week that they will no longer use brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, in their soft drinks.

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The Salt
6:18 am
Sat May 3, 2014

Organic Farming Factions Spat Over Synthetic Substances

The National Organic Standards Board voted to no longer allow farmers to use the antibiotic streptomycin on organic apple and pear trees.
Jeff Haynes AFP/Getty Images

Here in the news biz, we rely on thumbnail descriptions, sparing you the details. We'll tell you, for instance, that organic farmers aren't allowed to use synthetic pesticides and factory-made fertilizer.

In general, that's true. But there's also a long list of pesky exceptions to the rule. And this week, a battle erupted over those exceptions: the synthetic or factory-made substances that organic farmers are still allowed to use because the farmers say they couldn't survive without them.

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The Salt
2:34 am
Mon April 28, 2014

Fire-Setting Ranchers Have Burning Desire To Save Tallgrass Prairie

A line of fire turns brown grass into black earth.
Dan Charles/NPR

Originally published on Thu May 1, 2014 11:02 am

For the past month, in part of eastern Kansas, the prairie has been burning, as it does almost every spring. On some days, you could look toward the horizon in any direction and see pillars of smoke. The plumes of pollution have traveled so far that they've violated limits for particulates or ozone in cities as far away as Lincoln, Neb.

But here's the twist: Environmentalists have come to celebrate those fires.

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The Salt
4:07 am
Sat April 19, 2014

Can Wal-Mart Really Make Organic Food Cheap For Everyone?

Wal-Mart is promising to drive down the prices of organic food by bringing in a new company, WildOats, to deliver a whole range of additional products.
Wal-Mart/Flickr

Originally published on Sat April 19, 2014 10:40 am

It could be another milestone in organic food's evolution from crunchy to commercial: Wal-Mart, the king of mass retailing, is promising to "drive down organic food prices" with a new line of organic food products. The new products will be at least 25 percent cheaper than organic food that's on Wal-Mart's shelves right now.

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The Salt
2:30 am
Thu April 17, 2014

Plant Breeders Release First 'Open Source Seeds'

Backers of the new Open Source Seed Initiative will pass out 29 new varieties of 14 different crops, including broccoli, carrots and kale, on Thursday.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 1:49 pm

A group of scientists and food activists is launching a campaign Thursday to change the rules that govern seeds. They're releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new "open source pledge" that's intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely.

It's inspired by the example of open source software, which is freely available for anyone to use but cannot legally be converted into anyone's proprietary product.

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The Salt
5:25 pm
Mon April 7, 2014

Can Fish Farms Thrive In The USA?

Live tilapia are loaded into a truck bound for New York.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on

Why hasn't fish farming taken off in the United States?

It's certainly not for lack of demand for the fish. Slowly but surely, seafood that's grown in aquaculture is taking over the seafood section at your supermarket, and the vast majority is imported. The shrimp and tilapia typically come from warm-water ponds in southeast Asia and Latin America. Farmed salmon come from big net pens in the coastal waters of Norway or Chile.

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The Salt
1:14 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Farmers Need To Get 'Climate Smart' To Prep For What's Ahead

Farmers participate in a CGIAR climate training workshop on how to interpret seasonal rainfall forecasts in Kaffrine, Senegal.
Courtesy of J. Hansen/CGIAR Climate

Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 6:39 pm

The planet's top experts on global warming released their latest predictions this week for how rising temperatures will change our lives, and in particular, what they mean for the production of food.

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The Salt
11:45 am
Tue March 25, 2014

Food Giants Want 'Sustainable' Beef. But What Does That Mean?

Customers order food from a McDonald's restaurant in Des Plaines, Ill. The company has promised to start buying "verified sustainable beef" in 2016.
Scott Olson Getty Images

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 2:07 pm

McDonald's made a big green splash a few months ago by announcing that it will start buying "verified sustainable" beef in 2016.

A chorus of voices responded, "What's 'verified sustainable' beef?"

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