Is Change Coming to USDA: Kathleen Merrigan Nominated Deputy Secretary of USDA
Monday, February 23, 2009
by Obama Foodorama
According to Reuters, the White House has announced that Barack will be nominating Kathleen Merrigan as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture at some point this week. Merrigan is an assistant professor at Tufts University, where she's currently director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment masters and doctorate program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She has briefly worked at USDA: From 1999 to 2001, she was the administrator for the Agricultural Marketing Service. 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. National organic standards are still the subject of hot debate, almost twenty years later, however.
Merrigan is also one of the "Sustainable Dozen," which is a list of progressive, reform-minded candidates for Deputy Ag Secretary that was compiled by the agricultural advocacy group Food Democracy Now!. The Iowa-based group was founded earlier this year, and has been promoting sustainable changes at the United States Department of Agriculture through an educational campaign which calls for re-thinking how the business of agriculture is conducted in the US (it's educational as much for eaters and growers as it is for policy makers...). Their original open letter to President Obama urging him to consider a more sustainable approach to agriculture turned into a petition of support for FDN!'s goals, and as of today, the petition has 87, 436 signatures from concerned citizens all over the country. Interestingly, Food Democracy Now! will be meeting in DC tomorrow with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, to present him their petition in person. Coincidence? Or...?
February 23rd, 2009 By Paula Crossfield, Food Policy
Reuters reported today that President Obama has nominated Kathleen Merrigan as the USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Finally, democracy in action! Thanks are in order to Dave Murphy, and all 87,000 of you who signed the Food Democracy Now petition, where Merrigan was one of the recommended "Sustainable Dozen." While our fight is far from finished, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that finally the interests of eaters everywhere will have a voice at the USDA.
Merrigan has a long resume in sustainable agriculture. Currently the director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment MS and PhD Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, she has also had her hand in making policy, including taking part in the development of national organic standards. She has a PhD in urban and environmental planning from MIT, and has served as a senior science and technology adviser to Senate Ag Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy on issues related to biotechnology, organic and sustainable agriculture, agricultural research and extension, pesticides, animal and plant health, and agricultural appropriations. Folks, this is a woman we want on our side.
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, all the while staying the course, demanding policy that supports sustainable food ways. With a sustainably-minded deputy (and her team) on the other side of politics, we can have hope that our ideas will get better reception.