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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6:32am

Tue December 24, 2013
The Salt

Top German Chocolate Maker Fights For Its 'Natural' Reputation

If you're selling food in Germany, "natural" is good. It's a place that distrusts technological manipulation of what we eat.

Witness, for example, a 500-year-old law that allows beer-makers to use only three ingredients: water, barley and hops. The law has since been loosened slightly, but many brewers continue to abide by it for marketing reasons.

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3:05am

Sun December 22, 2013
The Salt

Grasslands Get Squeezed As Another 1.6 Million Acres Go Into Crops

Originally published on Sat December 28, 2013 4:59 pm

Retired farmer Joe Govert looks at a parcel of family land near Tribune, Kan. It has been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Charlie Riedel AP

As the year winds down, we here at NPR are looking at a few key numbers that explain the big trends of 2013.

Today's number: 1.6 million.

That's 1.6 million acres — about the area of the state of Delaware.

That's how much land was removed this year from the federal Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, which pays farmers to keep land covered with native grasses or sometimes trees. Most of that land now will produce crops like corn or wheat.

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3:31pm

Fri December 13, 2013
The Salt

Call the FBI! China Is Trying To Steal America's Seeds!

Originally published on Fri December 13, 2013 5:54 pm

Seed corn sits in the hopper of a planter.
Scott Olson Getty Images

If you think grains of rice or kernels of corn are free gifts of nature, think again. Seed companies — and the FBI — take a very different attitude, and walking off with the wrong seeds can land you in very serious trouble indeed.

In two apparently unrelated cases this week, federal prosecutors arrested citizens of China and charged them with stealing seeds that American companies consider valuable intellectual property.

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3:23pm

Wed December 11, 2013
The Salt

Drug Companies Accept FDA Plan To Phase Out Some Animal Antibiotic Uses

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 6:07 pm

Young broilers nibble feed at a chicken farm in Luling, Texas. The Food and Drug Administration has issued new guidance on how drug companies label antibiotics for livestock.
Bob Nichols USDA/Flickr

If drug companies follow guidance issued Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration, within three years it will be illegal to use medically important antibiotics to make farm animals grow faster or use feed more efficiently.

The FDA's announcement wasn't a big surprise; a draft version of the strategy was released more than a year ago.

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11:46am

Sat November 23, 2013
The Salt

Pepsi Pressured To Fight Big Sugar's 'Land Grab'

Originally published on Sun November 24, 2013 10:15 am

Tractors sit on a sugarcane plantation on the land of a Guarani-kaiowá indigenous community in Brazil.
Tatiana Cardeal Courtesy Oxfam

The anti-poverty group Oxfam is asking Pepsi's shareholders to approve a resolution that, if passed, would force the company to disclose its sugar suppliers and investigate whether those suppliers are implicated in "land grabs" that unfairly take land from the poor.

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1:22am

Thu November 21, 2013
The Salt

Organic Farmers Bash FDA Restrictions On Manure Use

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 1:34 pm

TK
Dan Charles/ NPR

Many organic farmers are hopping mad at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and their reason involves perhaps the most underappreciated part of agriculture: plant food, aka fertilizer. Specifically, the FDA, as part of its overhaul of food safety regulations, wants to limit the use of animal manure.

"We think of it as the best thing in the world," says organic farmer Jim Crawford, "and they think of it as toxic and nasty and disgusting."

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1:01am

Fri November 15, 2013
The Salt

Philippines Disaster Rekindles Fight Over Food Aid Rules

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 8:49 am

A relief worker looks over boxes of aid provided by the U.S. on November 14, 2013 in Leyte, Philippines. Proponents of food aid reform say it makes more sense for the U.S. to buy food donations locally than ship them across the globe.
Chris McGrath Getty Images

Emergency aid, including stocks of food, started arriving this week in cyclone-devastated areas of the Philippines; more is on the way.

The first wave of aid — high-energy biscuits designed to keep people alive when food is scarce — arrived via airlift. Huge shiploads of rice will be needed in the weeks and months to come. And exactly how the U.S. donates of that rice is a flashpoint in a long-running debate in Washington, D.C., about food aid.

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4:07pm

Thu November 14, 2013
The Salt

What's The Most Important Thing Food Labels Should Tell Us?

Originally published on Thu November 14, 2013 5:29 pm

Illustration by Daniel Horowitz for NPR

Food labels have become battlegrounds. Just last week, voters in Washington state narrowly defeated a measure that would have required food manufacturers to reveal whether their products contain genetically modified ingredients.

Supporters of the initiative — and similar proposals in other states — say that consumers have a right to know what they're eating.

But there are lots of things we might want to know about our food. So what belongs on the label?

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2:15pm

Thu November 7, 2013
The Salt

FDA Moves To Phase Out Remaining Trans Fats In Food Supply

Originally published on Thu November 7, 2013 4:51 pm

Crisco was the original product made with partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which contains trans fats. Today, Crisco has only small amounts of the fats.
Tony Dejak AP

If the Food and Drug Administration has its way, an era of food technology will soon end. The agency announced Thursday it is aiming to ban partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from all food products.

Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner, said at a press conference that her agency has come to the preliminary conclusion that the oils "are not generally recognized as safe for use in food."

If the agency makes this decision final, it will mean a complete ban on this ingredient.

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2:42pm

Mon November 4, 2013
The Salt

Why Are Pig Farmers Still Using Growth-Promoting Drugs?

Originally published on Mon November 4, 2013 5:42 pm

In recent years, pork producers have found ways to keep the animals healthy through improved hygiene.
M. Spencer Green AP

It's one of the most controversial practices in agriculture: feeding small amounts of antibiotics to animals in order to make them grow faster.

But what if the drugs don't even work very well?

There's some good evidence that they don't, at least in pigs. They used to deliver a boost in growth, but that effect has disappeared in recent years or declined greatly.

The reason for this is interesting and even paradoxical.

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1:18am

Fri November 1, 2013
The Salt

Are Farm Veterinarians Pushing Too Many Antibiotics?

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 3:27 pm

Cattle crowd inside a feedlot operated by JBS Five Rivers Colorado Beef in Wiley, Colo.
John Moore Getty Images

In a barn outside Manhattan, Kan., researchers from Kansas State University are trying to solve the riddle of bovine respiratory disease. They're sticking plastic rods down the noses of 6-month old calves, collecting samples of bacteria.

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3:08pm

Thu October 31, 2013
The Salt

Heat, Drought Draw Farmers Back To Sorghum, The 'Camel Of Crops'

Originally published on Thu October 31, 2013 7:07 pm

A test field of sorghum outside Manhattan, Kan., planted by Kansas State University.
Dan Charles NPR

Much of the world is turning hotter and dryer these days, and it's opening new doors for a water-saving cereal that's been called "the camel of crops": sorghum. In an odd twist, this old-fashioned crop even seems to be catching on among consumers who are looking for "ancient grains" that have been relatively untouched by modern agriculture.

Sorghum isn't nearly as famous as the big three of global agriculture: corn, rice and wheat. But maybe it should be. It's a plant for tough times, and tough places.

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1:38pm

Mon October 21, 2013
The Salt

Kansas Farmers Commit To Taking Less Water From The Ground

Originally published on Tue October 22, 2013 10:38 am

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

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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12:49pm

Thu October 3, 2013
The Salt

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

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 12:24 pm

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

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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2:48pm

Thu September 19, 2013
The Salt

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

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 7:14 pm

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

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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11:23am

Tue September 17, 2013
The Salt

Golden Rice Study Violated Ethical Rules, Tufts Says

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 4:30 pm

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

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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1:01am

Tue September 17, 2013
The Salt

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

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 4:30 pm

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

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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2:36pm

Mon September 16, 2013
The Salt

CDC: Deadliest Drug Resistance Comes From Hospitals, Not Farms

Originally published on Mon September 16, 2013 3:29 pm

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

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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4:01pm

Thu August 29, 2013
The Salt

Antibiotic Use On The Farm: Are We Flying Blind?

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 3:26 pm

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

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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1:21am

Tue August 27, 2013
The Salt

Turning Off The Spigot In Western Kansas Farmland

Originally published on Tue August 27, 2013 12:49 pm

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

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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