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
1:25 am
Mon December 15, 2014

Congress To Nutritionists: Don't Talk About The Environment

Originally published on Wed December 17, 2014 12:34 pm

A government-appointed group of top nutrition experts, assigned to lay the scientific groundwork for a new version of the nation's dietary guidelines, decided earlier this year to collect data on the environmental implication of different food choices.

Congress now has slapped them down.

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The Salt
9:43 am
Fri December 12, 2014

Aerial Photos Are New Weapon In Organic Civil War

The Cornucopia Institute commissioned this photo of an organic egg producer in Saranac, Mich. According to Cornucopia, the facility is owned by Herbruck's Poultry Ranch, which has a license to maintain up to 1 million chickens on this site.
Courtesy of The Cornucopia Institute

Originally published on Fri December 12, 2014 4:11 pm

If you look at it one way, these are the best of times for organic egg and milk producers. They can barely keep up with demand. Prices for their products are high. Profits are rolling in. Operations are expanding.

But that expansion is provoking suspicion, name-calling, and even clandestine investigations within the organic "community" because some organic advocates believe that some of these megafarms are not truly organic.

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The Salt
11:05 am
Mon December 8, 2014

Fringe No More: 'Ancient Grains' Will Soon Be A Cheerios Variety

The new box of Cheerios + Ancient grains cereal.
General Mills

Originally published on Wed December 10, 2014 8:26 am

So-called "ancient grains" have moved with breathtaking momentum from America's culinary dissident fringe toward the mainstream β€” and now they've arrived. After all, what's more mainstream than Cheerios? In January, General Mills will introduce a new version of its flagship breakfast cereal, called Cheerios + Ancient Grains.

The new version of Cheerios will contain small amounts of quinoa, Kamut wheat and spelt along with the traditional oats.

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The Salt
2:15 pm
Fri December 5, 2014

Why Did Vitamins Disappear From Non-GMO Breakfast Cereal?

The Original Grape-Nuts, which now bear a non-GMO label, no longer contain vitamins A, D, B-12 and B-2.
Claire Eggers NPR

Originally published on Sat December 6, 2014 4:18 am

Remember when Cheerios and Grape-Nuts went GMO-free? That was about a year ago, when their corporate creators announced that these products would no longer contain ingredients made from genetically modified organisms like common types of corn, soybeans or sugar beets.

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The Salt
3:28 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

Who Made That Flavor? Maybe A Genetically Altered Microbe

Mattheos Koffas (left), a biochemical engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Andrew Jones, a graduate student in his lab, with a flask of microbe-produced antioxidants.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Fri December 12, 2014 1:37 pm

For practically our whole history of cooking and eating, we've gotten our spices and most flavors (not to mention all of the other basic nutrients that keep us alive) straight from plants.

But researchers and biotech companies are starting to produce some of these nutrients and flavors β€” especially the high-priced ones β€” in their laboratories.

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The Salt
1:42 am
Tue December 2, 2014

Of Carrots And Kids: Healthy School Lunches That Don't Get Tossed

Samples of carrots cooked three ways are placed on a table for the kids at Walker-Jones Educational Campus, in Washington, D.C., to sample after they have finished lunch. The crowd favorite will later end up on the school lunch menu.
Claire Eggers NPR

Originally published on Fri December 5, 2014 8:50 am

You can lead a child to vegetables, but can you make her eat them?

A child, for instance, like Salem Tesfaye, a first-grader at Walker-Jones Educational Campus in Washington, D.C. Tesfaye picked up a lunch today that's full of nutrition: chicken in a whole-wheat wrap, chopped tomatoes and lettuce from local farms, a slice of cantaloupe and milk.

But, she confesses, sometimes she throws her lunch out. I ask her what she did today. "I threw all of it away," she says softly.

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The Salt
1:54 pm
Wed November 26, 2014

Why American Honey Importers Are Wary Of 'Turkish' Honey

An apiary on the outskirts of Chengdu, China, produces about 440 pounds of honey a day. American honey importers say they suspect the uptick in honey coming from Turkey actually originated in China.
Liu Jin AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed November 26, 2014 4:38 pm

Turkey is a land of fine honey. Bees produce more of the sweet stuff in Turkey than in any other country except China. And Turkish consumers happily eat most of it themselves. Very little Turkish honey is exported. When it is, it usually commands premium prices.

But some American honey producers say they've observed something odd: cheap Turkish honey headed to the U.S. The U.S. producers think it's not really Turkish honey β€” and that it actually comes from a country farther to the east.

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The Salt
12:33 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
4:28 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
1:01 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 β€” in other words, they get "double bucks."
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Mon November 17, 2014 10:52 am

The federal government is about to put $100 million behind a simple idea: doubling the value of SNAP benefits β€” what used to be called food stamps β€” 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
1:06 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 β€” 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 December 2, 2014 6:21 pm

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" β€” 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
3:21 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 8:42 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
2:40 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 8:29 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
5:01 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
3:02 pm
Wed October 8, 2014

Love Pine Nuts? Then Protect Pine Forests

Originally published on Wed October 8, 2014 6:15 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
8:30 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 2:06 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
4:15 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 5:38 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
3:56 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

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
2:42 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 4:48 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
7:07 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 12:30 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
3:40 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 12:42 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
1:43 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 12:42 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
3:40 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-KaiowΓ‘ 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 4:31 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
3:09 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 9:03 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
2:30 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 β€” corn, potatoes, rice, wheat and sorghum β€” 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
3:45 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 10:39 am

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
3:44 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 5:33 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 β€” 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
4:20 am
Wed July 30, 2014

Farming The Bluefin Tuna, Tiger Of The Ocean, Is Not Without A Price

Yonathan Zohar, Jorge Gomezjurado and Odi Zmora check on bluefin tuna larvae in tanks at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology.
Courtesy of Yonathan Zohar

Originally published on Wed July 30, 2014 1:21 pm

In a windowless laboratory in downtown Baltimore, some tiny, translucent fish larvae are swimming about in glass-walled tanks.

They are infant bluefin tuna. Scientists in this laboratory are trying to grasp what they call the holy grail of aquaculture: raising this powerful fish, so prized by sushi lovers, entirely in captivity. But the effort is fraught with challenges.

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The Salt
4:15 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 4:12 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
4:51 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

Are Organic Vegetables More Nutritious After All?

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 4:10 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 β€” and it concludes that organic fruit and vegetables offer a key benefit.

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