Score One For Sustainable Agriculture: Obama to Nominate Kathleen Merrigan to be Deputy Secretary of USDA

The choice of Tom Vilsack to head up the USDA was seen by many advocates of organic agriculture as being a pat on the back to agribusiness. Well, you lose some you win some: President Obama has announced that he will nominate Kathleen Merrigan to be Deputy Secretary of the USDA. Considering that's she's on the Sustainable Dozen list out forth by the Food Democracy Now campaign this is certainly great news.

Daily Kos lists Merrigan's credential's and some of her (very encouraging) positions on the issues: Academic Record & Professional Career
Merrigan has an impressive academic record: BA from Williams in PolySci and English; Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas; PhD in Environmental Planning and Policy from MIT.

From 1986-87 she worked in the regulatory division of the Texas Dept of Agriculture. She was a staffer for the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1987-1992. Between 1994-1999 she was at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, and served as a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. More recently she was Administrator of Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA (1999-2001) and was Assistant Professor and Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment MS and PhD program and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Merrigan on Organic Livestock Standards
Daily Kos also has a list of Merrigan's published articles, for those wanting to dig into her views on the issues more thoroughly, but here's some of what she suggests might go into an organic livestock standard (from Ensuring Comprehensive Organic Livestock Standards):

  • Choosing breeds that resist disease or other health problems and do not need "mutilations" i.e tail docking. Recommendation to choose indigenous breeds and breeds adapted to local conditions and organic production systems.
  • Natural reproduction.
  • Sick animals must be treated, even if this means loss of organic status.
  • Disease prevention should be based on diet and exercise (as opposed to sub-therapeutic antibiotics).
  • "All organic standards require meeting each animal’s nutritional needs, severely restrict feeds of animal origin, prohibit growth promoters in feed, restrict vitamin and mineral supplements, prohibit/restrict feeding of pure amino acids, establish preferential or exclusive use of organic feeds, or require access to pasture and roughage (at least for ruminants)."
  • Young mammals must get colostrum and milk (if not maternal milk, preferably organic 
milk from their own species).
  • Animals must have enough space to exercise and permit natural behavior.
  • Tethering is restricted or prohibited.

The paper goes on with specifications for each animal, for example, restrictions on keeping calves in individual boxes, cows must be fed a diet that prevents acidosis, poultry may not be kept in cages, forced molting should not be done to laying hens, sows may not be kept in farrowing crates, and pigs should live in an area that allows natural behaviors like rooting.

In response to the news Jean Holloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives as the Consumer's Union said,

Kathleen Merrigan is an excellent choice for Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Given her experience and background, we would expect her to be a strong defender of USDA’s organic standards, which have been under repeated attack for the last several years.

Merrigan will bring an excellent perspective to a number of troublesome labeling issues now before the agency, including loopholes in the current ‘grass fed’ standard, lack of uniformity in meat marketing claims across meat, poultry and dairy items, defining ‘raised without antibiotics' label claims, and weaknesses in the current definition of ‘naturally raised.'


photo: Tufts Univ.

via: Daily Kos
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Tags: Agriculture | Barack Obama | Farming | United States