Yesterday the Obama administration gave a big nod towards sustainable agriculture, appointing Kathleen Merrigan as deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Currently an assistant professor at Tufts University, Merrigan helped write the rules for the USDA’s organic program in the 1990s, and has an extensive background in environmental planning and politics.
Sustainable agriculture advocates are calling it an unexpected victory. For supermarkets, it’s validation that, no matter what the economy might be saying, the whole health era is here to stay. Concepts like “organic” and “humanely raised” shouldn’t be treated as mere trends or fringe ideals. They’re fully realized systems that are influencing the way food is produced.
And if Merrigan lives up to her potential, as many out there hope, the sustainable agenda in Washington and elsewhere will only grow.
“This amounts to a major win for organic, sustainable and local food advocates, since Merrigan is not only well-versed in these issues but has been a tireless advocate for them,” wrote Sam Fromartz, author of Organic, Inc., on his Chews Wise blog.
In addition to working for the USDA, Merrigan has held positions with the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. She also worked for the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture.
She seems to be a promising candidate, and a real sign of change at the USDA. Let’s hope that she tackles the marketing and economic realities of sustainable agriculture, and not just the ideology.