Dan 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
2:33 pm
Wed November 19, 2014

Just What Is In Pumpkin Spice Flavor? (Hint: Not Pumpkin)

The flavor of the season, you may have noticed, is pumpkin spice. Food companies have gone overboard on the stuff. There are pumpkin spice ice cream sandwiches, pumpkin spice-flavored almonds and, of course, pumpkin spice lattes.

Comedian John Oliver couldn't take it anymore.

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The Salt
6:28 am
Sun November 16, 2014

Big Data Companies Agree: Farmers Should Own Their Information

A global positioning receiver on the top of a combine harvester at a farm in Warwick, Md., in June. The equipment uses sensors and computers to help drive the combine along the route where the crops were planted, judge the composition of a crop and generate crop yield reports.
Brendan Smialowski AFP/Getty Images

Some of the biggest names in American agriculture, ranging from farmers' organizations to private companies like Monsanto and DuPont, have agreed on principles governing the use of data collected from farms.

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The Salt
3:01 pm
Mon November 10, 2014

How 'Double Bucks' For Food Stamps Conquered Capitol Hill

These wooden tokens are handed out to shoppers who use SNAP benefits to purchase fresh produce at the Crossroads Farmers Market near Takoma Park, Md. Customers receive tokens worth twice the amount of money withdrawn from their SNAP benefits card — in other words, they get "double bucks."
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon November 17, 2014 12:52 pm

The federal government is about to put $100 million behind a simple idea: doubling the value of SNAP benefits — what used to be called food stamps — when people use them to buy local fruits and vegetables.

This idea did not start on Capitol Hill. It began as a local innovation at a few farmers' markets. But it proved remarkably popular and spread across the country.

"It's so simple, but it has such profound effects both for SNAP recipients and for local farmers," says Mike Appell, a vegetable farmer who sells his produce at a market in Tulsa, Okla.

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The Salt
3:06 am
Mon November 10, 2014

Want To Grow These Apples? You'll Have To Join The Club

Pinatas are among the new generation of club apples — varieties that are not just patented, but also trademarked and controlled in such a way that only a select "club" of farmers can sell them.
Stemilt Growers LLC

Originally published on Tue November 11, 2014 9:56 am

There's an apple renaissance underway, an ever-expanding array of colors and tastes in the apple section of supermarkets and farmers markets.

Less visible is the economic machinery that's helping to drive this revolution. An increasing number of these new apples are "club apples" — varieties that are not just patented, but also trademarked and controlled in such a way that only a select "club" of farmers can sell them.

To understand the new trend, start with the hottest apple variety of recent years: Honeycrisp.

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The Salt
5:21 am
Sat November 1, 2014

With Style And Silo, 'Modern Farmer' Melds Agrarian With Urban Hip

Modern Farmer has a particular fondness for stories about anything having to do with goats.
Courtesy of Modern Farmer

Originally published on Tue November 4, 2014 10:42 am

If you cover food and farming, as we do, you end up looking at farm magazines and agricultural web sites. This means you see lots of articles about corn prices and ads for farm equipment.

Then, a couple of years ago, Modern Farmer appeared. It's a farm magazine like no other. It flaunts a look and attitude that sometimes make us laugh out loud.

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The Salt
4:16 pm
Tue October 28, 2014

To Make Bread, Watch The Dough, Not The Recipe

Sourdough loaves made by Fromartz with a bolted white flour from Anson Mills in South Carolina that he says reminded him of the wheat he'd tasted in southern France.
Samuel Fromartz

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 10:29 am

Journalist Samuel Fromartz works at home on a quiet street near the Capitol building, in Washington, D.C. He's a journalist, and editor-in-chief of the Food and Environment Reporting Network.

On a recent morning, I went to visit him and found several unread newspapers piled on his front step. "I've been a little busy," Fromartz explains.

He's not too busy to make bread, though.

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The Salt
7:01 pm
Wed October 15, 2014

New GMOs Get A Regulatory Green Light, With A Hint Of Yellow

Corn farmer Jerry McCulley sprays the weedkiller glyphosate across his cornfield in Auburn, Ill., in 2010. An increasing number of weeds have now evolved resistance to the chemical.
Seth Perlman AP

Government regulators have approved a new generation of genetically engineered corn and soybeans. They're the latest weapon in an arms race between farmers and weeds, and the government's green light is provoking angry opposition from environmentalists.

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The Salt
5:24 pm
Wed October 8, 2014

Love Pine Nuts? Then Protect Pine Forests

Originally published on Wed October 8, 2014 8:15 pm

A colleague accosted me at the coffee machine the other day with an urgent question. "Why are pine nuts so expensive?"

I promised to find out. And I did. But along the way, I discovered something remarkable about pine nuts.

They connect us to a world of remote villages and vast forests, ancient foraging traditions that are facing modern threats.

Pine nuts don't generally come from orchards, or fields, or plantations. They come from pine forests. (And pine nuts are expensive because most of these areas are so remote.)

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The Salt
10:30 am
Thu October 2, 2014

California Cracks Down On Farmers Market Cheaters

A customer shops for produce at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco in March.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 2, 2014 4:06 pm

Could that beloved farmer at your farmers market possibly be lying to you, passing off supermarket produce as locally grown?

California's state officials seem to think so. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law that will raise $1 million to deploy a small army of inspectors to farmers markets around the state. The inspectors will check for signs that farmers are selling fruits and vegetables that they didn't actually grow themselves, but instead picked up wholesale.

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The Salt
6:15 pm
Fri September 26, 2014

GMO Wheat Investigation Closed, But Another One Opens

How did that genetically modified wheat end up in a field in Oregon? Investigators still don't know, but now they've found GMO wheat in Montana, too.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Fri September 26, 2014 7:38 pm

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) say that they cannot figure out how genetically engineered wheat appeared, as if by magic, in a farmer's field in eastern Oregon in the spring of 2013.

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The Salt
5:11 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Giving Chickens Bacteria ... To Keep Them Antibiotic-Free

Within a day after chicks hatch, they are sorted by sex and shipped to farms. Some will be treated with antibiotics; others will not.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon September 22, 2014 5:56 pm

You know those foods and pills that promise to supply your body with "good bacteria?"

They may or may not make you healthier, but some of these "probiotics" do, in fact, appear to be effective in chickens. Poultry companies are turning to probiotics as an alternative to antibiotics, which have become increasingly controversial.

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The Salt
4:19 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 6:48 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
9:07 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 2:30 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
6:16 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 2:42 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
3:43 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 2:42 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
5:40 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 6:31 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
5:09 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 11:03 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
4:30 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
5:45 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 12:39 pm

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
5:44 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 7:33 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
6:15 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 6:12 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
6:39 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

Are Organic Vegetables More Nutritious After All?

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 6:10 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
5:35 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 7:19 pm

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

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The Salt
10:34 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 6:53 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
5:37 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Big Bucks From Strawberry Genes Lead To Conflict At UC Davis

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 6:26 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
5:40 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Breeding Battle Threatens Key Source Of California Strawberries

Originally published on Sun July 6, 2014 11:48 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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Misleading Labels
5:49 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 9:50 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
4:26 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

From Organic Pioneers, Son Inherits Passion, Just Not For Farming

Writer Arlo Crawford (left) with his father, Jim Crawford, an elder statesman of the organic farming movement who dropped out of law school in 1972 to grow vegetables.
Melanie McLean/Courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 12:00 pm

If you're a listener, you may recognize the name New Morning Farm.

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The Salt
5:29 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 11:37 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
3:51 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 9:33 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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