Daniel 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.

Every time a cow or steer in this country is sold for beef, the seller pays a dollar into a special fund.

"We collect about $80 million" each year, says Polly Ruhland, CEO of the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board. "Half of that stays at our state chapters."

All of it, though, pays for research, promotion and marketing of American beef. It funds scientific studies on beef's nutritional quality, promotes beef exports and pays for advertising, like the familiar slogan "Beef, it's what's for dinner."

A former corporate CEO has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for selling food that made people sick. Two other executives face jail time as well. These jail terms are by far the harshest sentences the U.S. authorities have handed down in connection with an outbreak of foodborne illness.

The outbreak, in this case, happened seven years ago. More than 700 cases of salmonella poisoning were linked to contaminated peanut products. Nine people died.

Investigators traced the contaminated food to a factory in Georgia operated by the Peanut Corporation of America.

The campaign to force America's farmers to change the way they handle their animals celebrated a victory this week.

McDonald's USA announced that in the near future, it will no longer buy eggs from chickens that live in cages.

Those cages are still the industry standard, and 90 percent of America's eggs come from chickens that live in them.

In the annals of ill-conceived public relations campaigns, the egg industry's war on Just Mayo deserves at least a mention.

Just Mayo is a product that looks like mayonnaise, tastes like mayonnaise and yet contains no eggs. The company behind it, Hampton Creek, has been getting lots of attention.

Josh Tetrick, the company's founder, has big ambitions. "If we're successful, there are a lot of [food] industries out there that are going to have to adjust," says Tetrick.

While prolonged drought has strained California agriculture, most of the state's farms, it seems, aren't just surviving it: They are prospering.

The environment, though, that's another story. We'll get to that.

There's a new candidate in the century-old quest for perfect, guiltless sweetness.

I encountered it at the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists, a combination of Super Bowl, Mecca, and Disneyland for the folks who put the processing in processed food.

Judging by some of the most pessimistic reports from California these days, the place is doomed. You can read all about the folly of trying to build cities in a desert.

Just this week, economists at the University of California, Davis, estimated that water shortages will cost the state's economy $2.7 billion this year. Many farmers are limiting the economic damage by ransacking the environment instead, draining underground aquifers.

In the coming months, a few shoppers will encounter a new and unfamiliar phrase when looking at packages of pork: "Produced without the use of ractopamine."

It's the brainchild of David Maren, founder of Tendergrass Farms, which sells pork products from pigs raised the "all-natural" way, on pasture.

Maren first heard about ractopamine years ago, when he was just getting into this business. Maren was talking with his cousin, who raises pigs the conventional way, in big hog houses.

For the past nine years, some of America's biggest producers of fresh salad greens and vegetables have been waging a quiet war on wildlife surrounding their fields, all in an effort to keep your veggies free of contamination from disease-causing bacteria.

Now, a fresh analysis of safety data suggests that the effort is mostly in vain. Clearing away wildlife habitat does not make food any safer.

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.