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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5:47pm

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 Wed April 15, 2015 11:09 am

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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7:54am

Sun April 12, 2015
The Salt

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

Originally published on Wed April 15, 2015 5:54 am

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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1:07pm

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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7:48am

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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5:48pm

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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