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.

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The Salt
5:49 am
Tue August 4, 2015

How New Jersey Tamed The Wild Blueberry For Global Production

Final inspection of frozen blueberries at the Atlantic Blueberry Company.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Tue August 4, 2015 6:42 am

Nearly every plant that we now depend on for food — from wheat to beans to tomatoes — comes from ancestors that once grew wild on hills and in forests.

In most cases, we don't know who, exactly, tamed those plants. We don't know which inventive farmer, thousands of years ago, first selected seeds and planted them for food.

The blueberry, though, is different. We know exactly who brought it in from the wild, and where.

It happened in the pine barrens of New Jersey.

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Food
5:35 pm
Sun August 2, 2015

Confronting A Shortage Of Eggs, Bakers Get Creative With Replacements

Originally published on Sun August 2, 2015 6:37 pm

Eggs are becoming more expensive and scarce recently because so many chickens have died from avian flu. So bakers, in particular, are looking for cheaper ingredients that can work just as well. (This story previously aired on All Things Considered on July 22, 2015.)

The Salt
4:57 pm
Wed July 22, 2015

Eggs Go AWOL, And Bakers Scramble For High-Tech Substitutes

The hard part of making an egg replacement product is coming up with a substitute for the protein in egg whites.
Wilson Hui Flickr

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 9:11 am

Strolling through the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists the other day, I saw several signs offering to solve an urgent problem American bakers face. The signs advertised "egg replacement."

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The Salt
4:06 pm
Mon July 20, 2015

The Ancient City Where People Decided To Eat Chickens

Lee Perry-Gal measures chicken long bones at the zooarchaeology lab, Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa.
Courtesy of Guy Bar-Oz

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 1:51 pm

An ancient, abandoned city in Israel has revealed part of the story of how the chicken turned into one of the pillars of the modern Western diet.

The city, now an archaeological site, is called Maresha. It flourished in the Hellenistic period from 400 to 200 BCE.

"The site is located on a trade route between Jerusalem and Egypt," says Lee Perry-Gal, a doctoral student in the department of archaeology at the University of Haifa. As a result, it was a meeting place of cultures, "like New York City," she says.

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The Salt
6:15 pm
Thu July 16, 2015

The Sad, Stately Photo Of Nixon's Resignation Lunch

On the day that he announced his resignation, Richard Nixon ordered cottage cheese, pineapple slices and a glass of milk.
Robert Knudsen Nixon Library

Originally published on Mon July 20, 2015 11:49 am

On the quest for cottage cheese trivia this week for my story for Morning Edition, I asked our research department for help. Researcher Barclay Walsh sent me a photo that stopped me in my tracks.

Take a look. Notice the official White House emblem on the plate. The silver platter. The sculpted ball of cottage cheese encircled by slices of pineapple, perhaps canned. The glass of milk.

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The Salt
11:03 am
Thu July 16, 2015

The Fall Of A Dairy Darling: How Cottage Cheese Got Eclipsed By Yogurt

Cottage cheese peaked in the early 1970s, when the average American ate about 5 pounds of it per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 1:52 pm

As you know, here at The Salt we've been a little obsessed with yogurt lately.

But there's a flip side to the story of the yogurt boom. What about that other product made from fermented milk that had its boom from 1950 to 1975, and has been sliding into obscurity ever since?

Cottage cheese took off as a diet and health food in the 1950s.

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The Salt
5:43 am
Wed July 15, 2015

Hey Yogurt-Maker, Where'd You Get Those Microbes?

Historic yogurt-making cultures held by Mirjana Curic-Bawden.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Wed July 15, 2015 8:25 am

Yogurt is a truly living food. The bacteria that transform milk into this thick and sour food also provide a sense of mystique.

For Atanas Valev, they carry the taste and smell of his homeland, Bulgaria. "It's just the smell of the fermented milk. It's tart, tangy tart. That's what yogurt should taste like," he says.

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The Salt
3:37 am
Mon July 13, 2015

A Crime Of Passion: When The Love Of Yogurt Burned Too Bright

Adolfo Valle for NPR

Originally published on Mon July 13, 2015 12:48 pm

Two years ago, in the middle of the night, a fire broke out in a commercial building on the northern edge of the city of Dallas. It destroyed a small yogurt company called Three Happy Cows.

Two months later, Edgar Diaz, the founder of Three Happy Cows, confessed that he'd set the fire. Yet people who knew Diaz, and had worked with him, could not believe it.

"I was like, Edgar did that? No way! No way. No way," says Ruth Cruz, who worked at Three Happy Cows.

"No. No. It was his baby. Couldn't imagine," says Don Seale, who supplied milk to the factory.

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The Salt
4:56 pm
Thu July 9, 2015

Buzz Kill For Bumblebees: Climate Change Is Shrinking Their Range

A bumblebee collects pollen from a flower. New evidence suggests climate change has left bumblebees with a shrinking range of places to live.
Yuri Kadobnovy AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri July 10, 2015 2:54 pm

There's new evidence that wild bees, some of nature's most industrious pollinators of wildflowers and crops, are getting squeezed by our planet's changing climate.

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The Salt
6:13 pm
Thu July 2, 2015

White House: We Have A Beef With GMO Regulations

About 90 percent of America's soybeans are genetically modified.
iStockphoto

The U.S. government's system for regulating the products of biotechnology, including GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, was born in 1986, and it has been controversial from the start. Now, it will be getting a makeover — in part to assure the public that GMOs really are adequately regulated.

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The Salt
3:16 pm
Thu July 2, 2015

Do Organic Farmers Need Special Seeds And Money To Breed Them?

"Who Gets Kissed" corn is a variety bred in Wisconsin specifically for organic farmers. It's named for an old game. At corn husking time, a lucky person who found a rare ear of corn with red kernels had the right to kiss anyone that he or she chose.
Courtesy of Adrienne Shelton

Rearranging veggie genes is big business, and we're not even talking about biotechnology. Private companies and university researchers spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year breeding better genetic varieties of food crops.

But organic farmers say those programs have a big blind spot when it comes to figuring out which new varieties are truly better. Few companies or researchers test those varieties under organic conditions.

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The Salt
4:57 pm
Fri June 12, 2015

Mighty Farming Microbes: Companies Harness Bacteria To Give Crops A Boost

Pam Marrone (right), founder and CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations, inspects some colonies of microbes. Marrone has spent most of her professional life prospecting for microbial pesticides and bringing them to market.
Dan Charles/NPR

Originally published on Fri June 12, 2015 8:55 pm

What if farmers, instead of picking up some agricultural chemicals at their local dealer, picked up a load of agricultural microbes instead?

It's something to contemplate, because some big names in the pesticide business — like Bayer and Monsanto — are putting money behind attempts to turn soil microbes into tools that farmers can use to give their crops a boost.

It's a symptom of the soaring interest in the ways microbes affect all of life. In our bodies, they help fight off disease. In the soil, they help deliver nutrients to plants, and perhaps much more.

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The Salt
5:03 am
Fri June 12, 2015

Organic Farmers Call Foul On Whole Foods' Produce Rating System

Whole Foods says its new rating system is a way to talk to farmers and customers about issues that the organic rules don't encompass, like water, energy, labor and waste.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Sun June 14, 2015 3:20 pm

Nobody really likes to be graded. Especially when you don't get an A.

Some organic farmers are protesting a new grading system for produce and flowers that's coming into force at Whole Foods. They say it devalues the organic label and could become an "existential threat."

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The Salt
4:08 pm
Tue June 9, 2015

Monsanto, Angling For Global Pesticide Dominance, Woos Syngenta

Central Illinois corn and soybean farmer Tim Seifert loads his field planter with Syngenta insecticide while planting seed corn in 2011. Monsanto has made a bid to buy Syngenta for its pesticide business.
Seth Perlman AP

Originally published on Tue June 9, 2015 5:18 pm

Selling seeds and pesticides used to be a sleepy, slow-moving business. That was, until about 20 years ago, when the chemical company Monsanto introduced genetically modified crops and started buying up seed companies. Ever since, companies in this industry have been maneuvering like hungry fish in a pond, occasionally dining on pieces of each other, hoping to survive through size and speed.

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The Salt
5:58 pm
Wed May 20, 2015

FDA Wants To Pull Back The Curtain, Slightly, On Farm Antibiotics

Cattle that are grass-fed and free of antibiotics and growth hormones are seen at Kookoolan Farm in Yamhill, Ore.
Don Ryan AP

Originally published on Wed May 20, 2015 9:16 pm

Farmers and public health advocates have been arguing for many years now about the use of antibiotics on farm animals, yet that argument takes place in a fog of uncertainty, because a lot of information simply isn't available.

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The Salt
3:37 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

Why We Can't Take Chipotle's GMO Announcement All That Seriously

Chipotle restaurant workers in Miami fill orders on April 27, the day the company said it would use only non-GMO ingredients in its food.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 3:06 pm

Chipotle is trumpeting its renunciation of ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The company says that using GMOs — mainly corn in its tortillas and soybean oil for cooking — "doesn't align" with its vision of "food with integrity." According to Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold, it represents "our commitment to serving our customers the very best ingredients we can find."

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Food
5:59 am
Tue April 28, 2015

Tyson Foods To Stop Giving Chickens Antibiotics Used By Humans

Tyson Foods says it has already reduced its use of human-use antibiotics by 80 percent over the past four years. Here, Tyson frozen chicken on display at Piazza's market in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2010.
Paul Sakuma AP

Originally published on Tue April 28, 2015 5:07 pm

Tyson Foods, the country's biggest poultry producer, is promising to stop feeding its chickens any antibiotics that are used in human medicine.

It's the most dramatic sign so far of a major shift by the poultry industry. The speed with which chicken producers have turned away from antibiotics, in fact, has surprised some of the industry's longtime critics.

For decades, the farmers who raise chickens, pigs and cattle have used antibiotics as part of a formula for growing more animals, and growing them more cheaply.

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The Salt
5:38 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

Millions Of Chickens To Be Killed As Bird Flu Outbreak Puzzles Industry

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

Originally published on Wed April 22, 2015 1:08 pm

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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The Salt
3:35 am
Wed April 15, 2015

Redistribute California's Water? Not Without A Fight

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

Originally published on Sun April 26, 2015 11:49 pm

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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The Salt
7:25 am
Sun April 12, 2015

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

Leif Parsons for NPR

Originally published on Sun April 26, 2015 3:14 pm

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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