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
5:06 pm
Fri April 19, 2013

Fertilizer Shows Its Deadly Side

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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The Salt
4:29 pm
Wed April 10, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Wed April 10, 2013 5:10 pm

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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The Salt
5:11 am
Thu April 4, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 3:47 pm

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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The Salt
6:30 pm
Mon March 25, 2013

Are Agriculture's Most Popular Insecticides Killing Our Bees?

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

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 10:42 am

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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The Salt
2:59 am
Thu March 7, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Fri March 8, 2013 10:44 am

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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The Salt
2:58 am
Fri March 1, 2013

Wild Bees Are Good For Crops, But Crops Are Bad For Bees

Wild bees, such as this Andrena bee visiting highbush blueberry flowers, play a key role in boosting crop yields.
Left photo by Rufus Isaac/AAAS; Right photo courtesy of Daniel M.N. Turner

Originally published on Tue March 5, 2013 12:13 pm

Some of the most healthful foods you can think of — blueberries, cranberries, apples, almonds and squash — would never get to your plate without the help of insects. No insects, no pollination. No pollination, no fruit.

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The Salt
8:09 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Oxfam Gives Big Food Companies Bad Behavior Grades

Oxfam's "report card" evaluates giants of the supermarket aisle on their commitment to social and environmental issues.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 9:42 am

Do failing grades inspire more effort? Oxfam hopes so. The activist group on behalf of the poor has just handed out report cards to 10 of the world's top food companies, grading their commitments to protect the environment and treat people fairly.

Oxfam doesn't grade on the curve, evidently. Every company flunked. But two European-based companies, Nestle and Unilever, were at least better than the others.

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The Salt
1:42 pm
Fri February 22, 2013

Despite Lingering Drought, USDA Predicts A Flood Of Grain

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 2:51 pm

Economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gazing into their crystal ball, see American farmers planting and harvesting huge amounts of corn, soybeans, and wheat this year. They're predicting a record harvest of corn: 14 billion bushels, up nearly 40 percent over last year's drought-crippled level.

With supply up, prices will fall. The USDA thinks that the price of the average bushel of corn could fall by a third. And soybean production and price are expected to follow a similar track.

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The Salt
2:16 pm
Thu February 21, 2013

Former Peanut Firm Executives Indicted Over 2009 Salmonella Outbreak

A sign outside the Peanut Corp. of America's processing plant in Blakely, Ga.
Ric Feld AP

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 10:26 am

Four former executives from Peanut Corp. of America and a related company are facing federal criminal charges for covering up information that their peanut butter was contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

The charges are related to a nationwide outbreak of salmonella back in 2009. More than 700 people became ill, and federal investigators traced the source of the bacteria to peanut butter manufactured in Blakely, Ga., by the Peanut Corp. of America. The company is no longer in business.

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The Salt
10:58 am
Tue February 19, 2013

Pictures Don't Lie: Corn And Soybeans Are Conquering U.S. Grasslands

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

Originally published on Tue February 19, 2013 1:56 pm

For years, I've been hearing stories about the changing agricultural landscape of the northern plains. Grasslands are disappearing, farmers told me. They're being replaced by fields of corn and soybeans.

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The Salt
4:28 am
Mon February 18, 2013

Farmer's Fight With Monsanto Reaches The Supreme Court

Vernon Hugh Bowman lives outside the small town of Sandborn, Ind.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon February 18, 2013 8:35 pm

This week, the Supreme Court will take up a classic David-and-Goliath case. On one side, there's a 75-year-old farmer in Indiana named Vernon Hugh Bowman; on the other, the agribusiness giant Monsanto.

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The Salt
8:37 am
Tue February 12, 2013

Why Russia Is Saying 'Nyet' To U.S. Meat Imports

A man buys meat at a butcher's stand in Moscow's Dorogomilovsky market in 2011. On Monday, Russia began blocking U.S. meat imports until those imports are ractopamine-free.
Natalia Kolesnikova AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 14, 2013 1:36 pm

Chances are, you've never heard of ractopamine. But as of Monday, U.S. meat exports to Russia — worth $500 million dollars a year — have been suspended, all because of this obscure chemical.

Russian officials say American meat products won't be allowed into their country unless the meat is certified free of ractopamine.

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The Salt
4:30 pm
Mon February 11, 2013

Pig Manure Reveals More Reason To Worry About Antibiotics

Pigs at a farm in Beijing peer out at visitors. Half of all the pigs in the world live in China.
Ng Han Guan AP

Originally published on Wed February 13, 2013 2:52 pm

There's a global campaign to force meat producers to rein in their use of antibiotics on pigs, chickens and cattle. European countries, especially Denmark and the Netherlands, have taken the lead. The U.S. is moving, haltingly, toward similar restrictions.

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Shots - Health News
5:28 pm
Wed January 30, 2013

Gut Microbes May Play Deadly Role In Malnutrition

Researchers followed 300 sets of twins in Malawi for the first three years of their life. In many cases, only one twin developed severe malnutrition, while the other remained healthier.
Photograph courtesy of Tanya Yatsunenko

Originally published on Mon September 9, 2013 10:44 am

There's a part of our body that's only now getting mapped: the trillions of microbes, mostly bacteria, that live in our guts.

Some scientists describe this community as a previously unnoticed vital organ. It appears to play a role in how quickly we gain weight and how well we fight off disease.

A study published in the journal Science suggests that changes in this community of microbes also may cause kwashiorkor, a kind of deadly malnutrition.

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The Salt
12:02 pm
Tue January 29, 2013

Why Chicken Wings Dominate Super Bowl Snack Time

Blame sports bars for the chicken wing boom, especially on Super Bowl Sunday.
jeffreyw Flickr.com

Take a look at this remarkable graph — is it the stock market? Home sales?

Nope. Click on the blue box in the lower right-hand corner and you'll see that the blue line tracks the number of chicken wings that Americans bought at grocery stores over the last year. See that mighty surge of wing-buying in early February? Apparently, you just cannot have a Super Bowl party without chicken wings — millions and millions of chicken wings.

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The Salt
3:31 am
Mon January 28, 2013

How One Man Tried To Slim Down Big Soda From The Inside

PepsiCo's product line ranges from salty chips and its sugary namesake drink to more healthful fare like hummus and yogurt. In 2010, the company announced plans to cut sugar, fat and sodium in its products to address health and nutrition concerns.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 31, 2013 8:42 am

Many big food companies are caught in a dilemma these days. They want to rebrand themselves as merchants of health — Coca-Cola's new anti-obesity ads are just the latest example — but many of their profits still come from products that make nutritionists scowl.

If there's one person who symbolizes this tension, it's Derek Yach.

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The Salt
10:04 am
Tue January 15, 2013

Monsanto Lawyer Suggests New Standard For Suing Farmers

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

Originally published on Thu January 17, 2013 11:08 am

For years, the biotech giant Monsanto has provoked outrage among its critics for suing farmers who save and replant seeds, such as soybeans and canola, from the company's patented Roundup Ready crops.

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The Salt
8:44 am
Wed January 9, 2013

Farm Bill Critics Claim Partial Victory Despite Stalemate

Peanut plants grow on a Halifax, N.C., farm that received federal subsidies in 2011.
Robert Willett MCT /Landov

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 10:20 am

It's amazing how many different kinds of people have been trying to abolish or at least change the government's payments to farmers. They include economists, environmentalists, taxpayer advocates, global anti-hunger advocates and even a lot of farmers. Some have been fighting farm subsidies for the past 20 years.

This past year, those critics laid siege to offices on Capitol Hill because the law that authorizes these programs — the farm bill — was about to expire. (It has to be renewed every five years.)

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The Salt
1:19 pm
Tue October 23, 2012

Monster Beverage Under Fire As Reports Link Deaths To Its Energy Drinks

The Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that it received five reports in the past past three years suggesting that people died after drinking caffeinated energy drinks.

But the agency also cautions that these reports do not add up to proof that the beverages actually caused those deaths. These reports — called adverse event reports — are considered unconfirmed allegations, and the FDA doesn't usually release them.

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The Salt
12:03 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

Sugar Beet Labor Battles Spill Out Onto The National Stage

Supporters of American Crystal Sugar Co. workers, who have been locked out of the company's sugar beet processing plants since 2011, rally in the North Dakota Capitol.
Dale Wetzel AP

It's not just nutritionists who have a problem with sugar these days, so does organized labor. The AFL-CIO is calling for a boycott of one the country's biggest sugar producers, the American Crystal Sugar Company, based in Moorhead, Minn.

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