Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sustainable-Ag Proponent to Fill Second Spot at USDA

Sustainable agriculture fans are excited about the appointment of Kathleen Merrigan, director of of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts University, to be the deputy secretary of the US Department of Agriculture. I haven't read up much on Merrigan, but I the Ethicurean calls her a "thrillingly unexpected pick," and I consider their endorsement golden.

Obama Foodarama has a slightly more expansive take on Merrigan's appointment, noting that she is both a "well known speaker and researcher on sustainable agriculture" and "credited with creating the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which mandated national organic standards and a program of federal accreditation." Merrigan was also one of the "sustainable dozen"--a list of potential appointees compiled by the group Food Democracy Now!, which has urged President Obama to rethink the way agriculture is conducted in the United States. Chewswise, meanwhile, has called Merrigan "someone who has pursued the change mantra in agriculture for nearly two decades."

Interestingly, Obama Foodarama also notes that USDA director Tom Vilsack has vowed to increase the agency's focus on civil rights issues within the department, which has a long history of discriminating against women and non-white populations who receive its aid. They speculate, convincingly, that Merrigan's appointment may be a symbolic step in that direction.

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