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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4:01pm

Thu July 11, 2013
The Salt

Are Antibiotics On The Farm Risky Business?

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 3:25 pm

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

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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1:39am

Tue July 9, 2013
The Salt

As Biotech Seed Falters, Insecticide Use Surges In Corn Belt

Originally published on Wed July 10, 2013 12:56 pm

Crop consultant Dan Steiner inspects a field of corn near Norfolk, Neb.
Dan Charles NPR

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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2:45pm

Thu June 27, 2013
The Salt

What The Rise Of Cage-Free Eggs Means For Chickens

Originally published on Sat June 29, 2013 7:32 pm

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

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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1:41pm

Wed June 19, 2013
The Salt

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

James Finley AP

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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11:25am

Wed June 12, 2013
The Salt

Court To Monsanto: You Said You Won't Sue, So You Can't

Originally published on Fri June 14, 2013 11:33 am

A farmer holds Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybean seeds at his family farm in Bunceton, Mo.
Dan Gill AP

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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1:20am

Fri May 31, 2013
The Salt

Michigan Tracks Cattle From Birth To Plate

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 8:54 am

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

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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1:05am

Thu May 30, 2013
The Salt

GMO Wheat Found In Oregon Field. How Did It Get There?

Originally published on Mon June 3, 2013 12:03 pm

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

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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6:03am

Mon May 27, 2013
The Salt

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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3:47pm

Thu May 16, 2013
The Salt

Congress: Where Food Reforms Go To Die?

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 4:17 pm

Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

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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4:12pm

Tue May 7, 2013
The Salt

Bee Deaths May Have Reached A Crisis Point For Crops

Originally published on Tue May 7, 2013 8:56 pm

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

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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2:55pm

Fri May 3, 2013
The Salt

Unraveling The Mystery Of A Rice Revolution

Originally published on Fri May 3, 2013 3:02 pm

Rice farmers in Indonesia plant rice seedlings using the "system of rice intensification."
Courtesy of SRI International Network and Resources Center

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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4:29pm

Wed May 1, 2013
The Salt

Who Paid For Last Summer's Drought? You Did

Originally published on Wed May 1, 2013 5:10 pm

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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12:57am

Fri April 26, 2013
The Salt

Exploring Coffee's Past To Rescue Its Future

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 1:47 pm

Eduardo Somarriba is a researcher at the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Education in Turrialba, Costa Rica.
Dan Charles NPR

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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1:20am

Wed April 24, 2013
The Salt

Coffee For A Cause: What Do Those Feel-Good Labels Deliver?

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 1:50 pm

Luis Fernando Vasquez has been a coffee farmer in the central valley of Costa Rica his entire life.
Dan Charles NPR

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.

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1:22am

Mon April 22, 2013
The Salt

How Coffee Brings The World Together

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 1:51 pm

The best coffee comes from high altitudes with a warm climate like in Huehuetenango, Guatemala.
David Gilkey NPR

Coffee is more than a drink. For many of us — OK, for me — it's woven into the fabric of every day.

It also connects us to far corners of the globe.

For instance, every Friday, a truck pulls up to the warehouse of Counter Culture Coffee, a small roaster and coffee distributor in Durham, N.C., and unloads a bunch of heavy burlap sacks.

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2:30pm

Fri April 19, 2013
The Salt

Fertilizer Shows Its Deadly Side

Originally published on Fri April 19, 2013 3:06 pm

Workers at a cooperative farm near Shanghai scatter fertilizer across fields of winter wheat. Image from the May issue of National Geographic magazine.
© Peter Essick National Geographic

My first reaction when I heard details of this week's deadly fertilizer explosion in Texas was horror.

My second thought was, "Maybe I shouldn't have pushed to change that headline."

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2:29pm

Wed April 10, 2013
The Salt

As Promised: Obama Wants To Overhaul Global Anti-Hunger Efforts

Originally published on Wed April 10, 2013 3:10 pm

Palestinians unload bags of flour donated by USAID, or the United States Agency for International Development, at a depot in the West Bank village of Anin in 2008.
Mohammed Ballas AP

The White House unveiled its proposal Wednesday for drastic changes in government programs that donate food to fight hunger abroad — and surprised no one.

As we reported last week, rumors of such an overhaul had been circulating for weeks, arousing both hope and anger among organizations involved in global anti-hunger programs.

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3:11am

Thu April 4, 2013
The Salt

A Political War Brews Over 'Food For Peace' Aid Program

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 1:47 pm

Pakistani aid workers offload USAID food supplies from an Army helicopter in Kallam Valley during catastrophic flooding in 2010.
Behrouz Mehri AFP/Getty Images

Washington is awash in rumors this week that the White House is planning major changes in the way the U.S. donates food to fight hunger in some of the world's poorest countries.

It has set off an emotional debate. Both sides say they are trying to save lives.

America's policies on food aid are singularly generous — and also unusually selfish. On the generous side, the U.S. spends roughly $1.5 billion every year to send food abroad, far more than any other country.

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4:23pm

Mon March 25, 2013
The Salt

Are Agriculture's Most Popular Insecticides Killing Our Bees?

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 8:42 am

Workers clear honey from dead beehives at a bee farm east of Merced, Calif.
Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

Environmentalists and beekeepers are calling on the government to ban some of the country's most widely used insect-killing chemicals.

The pesticides, called neonicotinoids, became popular among farmers during the 1990s. They're used to coat the seeds of many agricultural crops, including the biggest crop of all: corn. Neonics, as they're called, protect those crops from insect pests.

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12:59am

Thu March 7, 2013
The Salt

In A Grain Of Golden Rice, A World Of Controversy Over GMO Foods

Originally published on Fri March 8, 2013 8:44 am

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

There's a kind of rice growing in some test plots in the Philippines that's unlike any rice ever seen before. It's yellow. Its backers call it "golden rice." It's been genetically modified so that it contains beta-carotene, the source of vitamin A.

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