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
5:00 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

Chickens That Lay Organic Eggs Eat Imported Food, And It's Pricey

Empty shelves where eggs should be at a Whole Foods Market in Washington, D.C. The store blames increased demand for organic eggs.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Tue March 4, 2014 8:26 am

The other morning, I found myself staring at something strange and unfamiliar: empty grocery shelves with the word "eggs" above them. The store, a Whole Foods Market in Washington, D.C., blamed, in another sign, the dearth on "increased demand for organic eggs."

This scene is unfolding in grocery stores across the country. But Whole Foods' sign wasn't telling the whole truth. Demand for organic eggs is indeed increasing, but production is also down.

The reason behind that shortfall highlights an increasingly acute problem in the organic industry.

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The Salt
9:55 am
Wed February 19, 2014

Is Tyson Foods' Chicken Empire A 'Meat Racket'?

Chickens gather around a feeder in a Tyson Foods poultry house in Washington County, Ark.
April L. Brown AP

Originally published on Mon February 24, 2014 11:38 am

Christopher Leonard's new exposé on the chicken industry, The Meat Racket, doesn't devote much ink to the physical object on our plate, the chicken meat itself.

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The Salt
9:30 am
Tue February 4, 2014

How American Food Companies Go GMO-Free In A GMO World

Allen Williams grows corn and soybeans for Clarkson Grain, which has been selling GMO-free grain to Japan for years.
Dan Charles/NPR

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 5:12 am

Quite possibly, you've noticed some new food labels out there, like "Not made with genetically modified ingredients" or "GMO-free." You might have seen them on boxes of Cheerios, or on chicken meat. If you've shopped at Whole Foods, that retailer says it now sells more than 3,000 products that have been certified as "non-GMO."

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The Salt
9:21 am
Mon January 27, 2014

Soil, Weedkillers And GMOs: When Numbers Don't Tell The Whole Story

Farm statistics: usually illuminating ... occasionally misleading.
Seth Perlman AP

Originally published on Mon January 27, 2014 1:12 pm

I love numbers. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I think a good bar graph can be worth a thousand pictures.

But three times in the past few days, I've come across statistics in reputable-looking publications that made me stop and say, "Huh?"

I did some investigating so you don't have to. And indeed, the numbers don't quite tell the story that they purport to tell.

So here goes: My skeptical inquiry into statistics on herbicide use, soil erosion, and the production of fruits and nuts.

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The Salt
2:10 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

Should Farmers Give John Deere And Monsanto Their Data?

Adam Cole NPR

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 5:01 pm

Starting this year, farmers across the Midwest can sign up for a service that lets big agribusiness collect data from their farms, minute by minute, as they plant and harvest their crops.

Monsanto and John Deere are offering competing versions of this service. Both are promising to mine that data for tips that will put more money in farmers' pockets.

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The Salt
10:15 am
Fri January 10, 2014

A Green-Movement Website Shakes Up The Debate Over GMOs

After Grist's six-month-long series on genetically modified foods, some loyal readers accused the site of changing directions in the debate.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 9:52 am

A 26-part series on genetically modified food was not Nathanael Johnson's idea. And he didn't realize it would take six months, either.

Last year, Johnson was hired as the new food writer for Grist, a website for environmental news and opinion. Grist's editor, Scott Rosenberg, was waiting with an assignment: Dig into the controversy over GMOs.

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The Salt
1:23 pm
Wed January 8, 2014

This GMO Apple Won't Brown. Will That Sour The Fruit's Image?

Soon after being sliced, a conventional Granny Smith apple (left) starts to brown, while a newly developed GM Granny Smith stays fresher looking.
Courtesy of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc.

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 7:29 pm

If you (or your children) turn up your nose at brown apple slices, would you prefer fresh-looking ones that have been genetically engineered?

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The Salt
10:49 am
Thu January 2, 2014

How Mass-Produced Meat Turned Phosphorus Into Pollution

A dead carp floats in water near the shore at Big Creek State Park on Sept. 10 in Polk City, Iowa. Like many agricultural states, Iowa is working with the EPA to enforce clean-water regulations amid degradation from manure spills and farm-field runoff.
Charlie Neibergall AP

Originally published on Thu January 2, 2014 7:27 am

It's a quandary of food production: The same drive for efficiency that lowers the cost of eating also can damage our soil and water.

Take the case of one simple, essential chemical element: phosphorus.

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The Salt
11:39 am
Tue December 24, 2013

Top German Chocolate Maker Fights For Its 'Natural' Reputation

Originally published on Tue December 24, 2013 5:32 am

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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The Salt
10:14 am
Sun December 22, 2013

Grasslands Get Squeezed As Another 1.6 Million Acres Go Into Crops

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

Originally published on Sat December 28, 2013 3:59 pm

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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The Salt
2:25 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Fri December 13, 2013 4:54 pm

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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The Salt
12:37 pm
Sun November 24, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Sun November 24, 2013 9:15 am

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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The Salt
2:31 pm
Thu November 7, 2013

FDA Moves To Phase Out Remaining Trans Fats In Food Supply

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

Originally published on Thu November 7, 2013 3:51 pm

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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The Salt
1:16 pm
Mon November 4, 2013

Why Are Pig Farmers Still Using Growth-Promoting Drugs?

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

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

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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The Salt
1:50 pm
Mon October 21, 2013

Kansas Farmers Commit To Taking Less Water From The Ground

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

Originally published on Tue October 22, 2013 9:38 am

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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