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 eaters everywhere will have a voice at the USDA.
Rumors had spread about the possibility of naming Chuck Hassebrook to the position, but the word on the street was that House Ag Chair Collin Peterson blocked the nomination by pitching a fit. Apparently he didn’t have anything specific against Merrigan, a surprising yet stupendous alternative choice for deputy.
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.