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Selection of Organic Food Policy Expert at Ag. Hailed by Advocates

By Jane Black
President Obama's choice of organics expert Kathleen Merrigan for the No. 2 spot at the Agriculture Department was immediately welcomed by sustainable agriculture and food policy advocates who have been lobbying hard for progressive appointments at an agency that has historically has emphasized programs that support commercial farming.

"We think it's great news," said David Murphy, director of Food Democracy Now, an Iowa-based nonprofit that has petitioned for the appointment of a dozen "sustainability oriented" candidates for high-level USDA positions. "Merrigan has a fantastic background in supporting sustainable agriculture. She is the type of person we really believe should be leading change for 21st century agriculture."

Merrigan, an assistant professor at Tufts University, helped draft the 1990 legislation that recognized organic farming while a staffer for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt). She then went on to head the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, which drafted rules for organic labeling under her leadership. In a blog post last fall, Sam Fromartz, author of "Organic Inc.", put it this way: "While [author Michael] Pollan helped put these issues onto the national agenda, people like Merrigan have long been doing the wonky policy work."

Food policy advocates were initially dismayed by Obama's choice of former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. But since his confirmation, Vilsack has gone out of his way to redefine himself as a friend to small farmers and an advocate for all eaters. Merrigan's selection, Murphy said, is one more sign "that change is going to happen in a lot of areas."

Posted at 11:18 AM ET on Feb 24, 2009  | Category:  Cast of Characters
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