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.

Just over a decade ago, the American Farm Bureau Federation declared war on legislation to slow down global warming. The organization, a lobbying powerhouse, argued that a "cap-and-trade" proposal making its way through Congress would make fuel and fertilizer more expensive and put farmers out of business.

Some of the most popular products of biotechnology — corn and cotton plants that have been genetically modified to fend off insects — are no longer offering the same protection from those bugs. Scientists say that the problem results from farmers overusing the crops, and are pushing for new regulations.

These crops were the original genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. They weren't the first ones invented, but they were the first to be widely embraced by farmers, starting in the late 1990s.

The Trump administration has been celebrating an initiative that buys food from farmers and distributes it through charitable organizations such as food banks. "I'm proud to announce that we will provide an additional $1 billion to fund the Farmers to Families Food Box program. It's worked out so well," President Trump told a cheering crowd on Aug. 24 in North Carolina.

More than 40 years ago, in Nigeria, a young scientist named Rattan Lal encountered an idea that changed his life — and led, eventually, to global recognition and a worldwide movement to protect the planet's soil.

Lal was fresh out of graduate school, recruited to join the newly established International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, and given an assignment that, in hindsight, seems ridiculous in its ambition. "I was 25 years old, in charge of a lab, given the mandate of improving quality and quantity of food production in the tropics!" Lal says.

For a glimpse of what could happen to a trillion dollars worth of American farmland, meet Ray Williams.

He's a lawyer-turned-farmer, growing organic grain and feeding young cows on 3,000 acres in northeastern Oregon. Last year, he and his brother Tom decided that they were getting too old for the long hours and hard work.

"We told our clients, you don't want to rely on senior citizens for your high quality organic products. Trust me on this!" says Williams, age 68.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The company Bayer announced today that it will pay roughly $10 billion to people who say they got cancer after using the company's most widely used weed killer. NPR's Dan Charles has that story.

A month ago, America's pork farmers were in crisis. About 40 percent of the country's pork plants were shut down because they had become hot spots of coronavirus infection.

Millions of newly impoverished people are turning to the charitable organizations known as food banks. Mile-long lines of cars, waiting for bags of free food, have become one of the most striking images of the current economic crisis. Donations are up, too, including from a new billion-dollar government effort called the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tyson Foods, one of the biggest meat producers in the U.S., is suspending work at its pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa. Officials in Black Hawk County, where the plant is located, say at least 150 people with close connections to the plant have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Paul TenHaken, the 42-year-old mayor of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said it wasn't easy getting the world's top pork producer to shut down one of its biggest plants.

"It was tense," TenHaken said. "You know, you shut down a plant like that, it has a pretty big impact on the food supply. So we weren't taking this lightly, making this request."

Several meat processing plants around the U.S. are sitting idle this week because workers have been infected with the coronavirus. Tyson Foods, one of the country's biggest meat processors, says it suspended operations at its pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, after more than two dozen workers got sick with COVID-19. National Beef Packing stopped slaughtering cattle at another Iowa plant, and JBS USA shut down work at a beef plant in Pennsylvania.

Scientists are currently carrying out a trial to see whether a drug that's currently used to treat lupus and to prevent malaria might also help treat COVID-19.

Their interest is based on laboratory studies showing that the drug, hydroxychloroquine, blocked the coronavirus from entering cells. There's no solid evidence, as yet though, that the drug actually is an effective COVID-19 treatment.

In fact, medical experts have warned against buying it for that purpose, because that might exhaust supplies for people who actually need it.

Vice President Mike Pence said the White House may ask hospitals to use some of their federal aid to cover the medical costs of COVID-19 treatment for people who have lost their health insurance in recent weeks, along with their jobs.

Some medical experts have called on the administration to allow newly uninsured people to sign up for health insurance under Obamacare. But at a White House briefing on Thursday, President Trump rejected that idea, saying that "we're doing better than that" with what he called "a cash payment."

At a White House briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, laid out a grim vision of the future.

The best computer models, she said, predict that between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 during the coming months, even if the country continues the strict social distancing measures that most states have adopted. Relaxing those restrictions would send the toll much higher.

Thousands of farmworkers are now carrying a new document with them on the road, in case they get stopped. Barbara Resendiz got hers last Friday, together with her paycheck. The small card explains that the Department of Homeland Security considers her job to be part of the nation's critical infrastructure and that she needs to get to work, despite California's order to shelter in place.

As Americans scattered to the privacy of their homes this week to avoid spreading the coronavirus, the opposite scene was playing out in the Mexican city of Monterrey.

A thousand or more young men arrived in the city, as they do most weeks of the year, filling up the cheap hotels, standing in long lines at the U.S. Consulate to pick up special H-2A visas for temporary agricultural workers, then gathering in a big park to board buses bound for farms in the United States.

In northeastern Kansas, there's an open-air ecological laboratory called Konza Prairie. Scientists like Ellen Welti go there to study plants, insects, and big animals. "In the spring it has a lot of beautiful flowers, it has bison; everybody should go visit and check it out for themselves," says Welti, who is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Oklahoma.

In this landscape, grasshoppers play a crucial role. They eat the grass; birds eat them.

Parker Smith grows corn and soybeans on land near Champaign, Ill., together with his father and uncle. But Smith Farms doesn't own most of the land it uses. "About 75 percent of what we farm is rented ground," he says.

This is common. Across the Midwest, about half of all the farmland is owned by landlords who live somewhere else. Farmers compete to rent that land. "There's only so much ground, and most of the farmers out there want more, so obviously it gets pretty competitive," Smith says.

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