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
Tue February 10, 2015

California's Strawberry Feud Ends, But Who Will Breed New Berries?

The future of strawberry breeding at the University of California has been secured. Perhaps.

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The Salt
5:04 am
Mon February 2, 2015

Here's How To End Iowa's Great Nitrate Fight

A cereal rye cover crop grows (at left) in a field where corn was recently harvested. Cover crops can capture nutrients such as nitrate and prevent them from polluting nearby streams.
Courtesy of Paul Jasa/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Originally published on Mon February 2, 2015 1:09 pm

Three weeks ago, Sara Carlson was driving to her job in Ames, Iowa, when she turned on the radio and heard me talking about nitrates in Iowa's water.

"And I was like, 'I really hope he nails this,' " she says.

This topic is Carlson's specialty. She works with a group called Practical Farmers of Iowa. These farmers are devoted to farming in ways that protect the environment.

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The Salt
5:46 pm
Fri January 30, 2015

The Real Super Sunday Battle Is In The Snack Bowl

The defending champion and favorite remains the chicken wing. But underdog snacks like the carrot are trying to elbow their way into the competition.
Leif Parsons for NPR; Source: whologwhy/Flickr

Originally published on Fri January 30, 2015 6:11 pm

Here at The Salt, we have been overwhelmed with emails brimming with factoids and completely unsubstantiated assertions about the food that Americans will consume on Sunday as they watch gigantic athletes burn through calories at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

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The Salt
11:45 am
Tue January 27, 2015

Beef Packers Block Plan To Revive Growth-Promoting Drug

Cattle in holding pens at the Simplot feedlot located next to a slaughterhouse in Burbank, Washington on Dec. 26, 2013. Merck & Co Inc is testing lower dosages of its controversial cattle growth drug Zilmax drug in an effort to resume its sales to the $44 billion U.S. beef industry.
Ross Courtney Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Tue January 27, 2015 2:08 pm

For more than a year, a once-popular drug that makes cattle put on weight faster has been stuck in a kind of veterinary purgatory.

As far as the Food and Drug Administration is concerned, the drug, Zilmax, is legal to use. But large meat packers, which dominate the industry, have ostracized it after the drug was accused of making animals suffer. The drug's manufacturer, Merck, has been working on a plan to rehabilitate it. But that effort has stalled.

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The Salt
6:57 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Clean Up Those Contaminated Chicken Parts, USDA Tells Industry

About a quarter of the chicken parts we buy are tainted with salmonella, according to USDA tests.
snowpea&bokchoi/Flickr

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 8:30 pm

Right now, according to government surveys, about a quarter of the cut-up chicken you buy — and about half of all ground chicken — is contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

It's a surprisingly high number, and it was a surprise to the USDA's food safety officials, too, when they realized this about a year ago. Because up to that point, their efforts had been focused on whole chickens, rather than the cut-up parts.

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The Salt
4:09 pm
Mon January 19, 2015

Chipotle's Pulled Pork Highlights Debate Over Sow Welfare

A sow nurses her piglets in a farrowing crate in an Elite Pork Partnership hog confinement building in Carroll, Iowa, in 2009.
Charlie Neibergall AP

Originally published on Sun January 25, 2015 4:47 pm

About a third of all Chipotle restaurants are not serving carnitas at the moment, because the restaurant chain has suspended one of its major pork suppliers.

The restaurant chain has declined to identify the supplier and the exact reasons for the suspension. In its official statements, Chipotle said only that the supplier was not in compliance with the company's animal welfare standards.

But when David Maren heard the news, he had a pretty good idea what the problem was.

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The Salt
4:30 pm
Tue January 13, 2015

GMO Potatoes Have Arrived. But Will Anyone Buy Them?

After a turn in the tumbling machine, these conventional russet Burbank potatoes are starting to show signs of bruising. New GMO potatoes called Innate russet Burbanks have been bred not to bruise as easily as these.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Tue February 24, 2015 7:30 pm

On the face of it, the new potato varieties called "Innate" seem attractive. If you peel the brown skin off their white flesh, you won't find many unsightly black spots. And when you fry them, you'll probably get a much smaller dose of a potentially harmful chemical.

But here's the catch: Some of the biggest potato buyers in the country, such as Frito-Lay and McDonald's, seem afraid to touch these potatoes. Others don't even want to talk about them because they are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

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The Salt
3:26 am
Mon January 12, 2015

Iowa's Largest City Sues Over Farm Fertilizer Runoff In Rivers

The city of Des Moines, Iowa, sits on the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. The city's water works says it will sue three neighboring counties for high nitrate levels in these waterways.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon January 26, 2015 7:09 pm

Des Moines, Iowa, is confronting the farms that surround it over pollution in two rivers that supply the city with drinking water. Des Moines Water Works says it will sue three neighboring counties for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. It's a novel attempt to control fertilizer runoff from farms, which has been largely unregulated.

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The Salt
6:12 pm
Mon December 29, 2014

How California's New Rules Are Scrambling The Egg Industry

These "enriched cages" from the JS West farm in Atwater, Calif., in 2011 comply with the state's new law. They are larger and allow chickens to perch and lay eggs in enclosed spaces.
Jill Benson AP

Originally published on Tue December 30, 2014 12:34 pm

Within just a few days, on Jan. 1, all eggs sold in California will have to come from chickens that live in more spacious quarters — almost twice as spacious, in fact, as the cages that have been the industry standard.

It's been a shock to the egg industry, and to grocery stores. Eggs are one of those staples that self-respecting grocery retailers absolutely, positively have to keep in stock. "You have to have bread, milk, lettuce. You have to have eggs," says Ronald Fong, the president and CEO of the California Grocers Association.

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The Salt
3:27 am
Thu December 25, 2014

Inside The Indiana Megadairy Making Coca-Cola's New Milk

Cows rotate in the milking parlor at Fair Oaks Farms, a large-scale dairy and tourist attraction, near Rensselaer, Ind.
Dan Charles NPR

Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 11:47 am

Coca-Cola got a lot of attention in November when it announced that it was going into the milk business. Not just any milk, mind you: nutritious, reformulated supermilk.

It also invited ridicule. "It's like they got Frankenstein to lactate," scoffed Stephen Colbert on his show. "If this product doesn't work out, they can always re-introduce Milk Classic."

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