Kathleen Merrigan to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
Kathleen Merrigan, a professor who helped develop U.S. organic food labeling rules, has been chosen for the Agriculture Department’s No. 2 job by President Barack Obama. Merrigan, tapped for deputy secretary of agriculture, was head of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service from 1999-2001 during the Clinton presidency and helped to develop the USDA’s rules on what can be sold as organic food. As a Senate aide, she worked on the 1990 law that recognized organic farming. She’s a well known speaker and researcher on sustainable agriculture, and is credited with creating the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which mandated national organic standards and a program of federal accreditation.
“Sustainable and organic farmers are excited ... that someone who has been associated with these issues her whole career is going to be at that level in the department,” said Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The deputy agriculture secretary usually oversees day-to-day USDA operations.
As deputy she will be number 2 at the USDA, keeping the President, Secretary Vilsack and both congressional bodies informed on sustainable food issues. This could change the game for our food system. But we need not be satisfied with just this appointment. We all know what can happen to a politician with little support in an old, stubborn institution: they can be stymied by other policy-makers and interests at every turn. This is why we must show Merrigan and her colleagues our support, continue to push the President for more sustainable appointments, and demand policy that supports sustainable food systems. With a sustainably-minded deputy (and her team) on the other side of politics, we can have hope that our ideas will be better received.
Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Merrigan brings “sound policy background to the job” from her previous experience at the USDA.
“She has demonstrated a commitment to the needs of agriculture and rural communities, promoting sound conservation and the benefits of healthy foods and good nutrition,” he said.