Merrigan’s Departure Leaves Gaping Hole for Federal Food and Ag Policy
Washington, D.C. – The departure of Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “leaves a gaping hole in the Obama administration's leadership on food and agriculture policy,” Environmental Working Group’s president Ken Cook said today.
In an agency that too often defaults to the preferences of industrial agriculture and big food companies, Kathleen has been the vital source of fresh ideas, action, and hope in the daunting work of fixing America's broken food system. That's been the story of her career. I first observed Kathleen's extraordinary leadership in 1989, when she was drafting legislation that eventually created national standards for organic food--the regulatory foundation for what has become the most exciting and successful segment in the food system. Kathleen's service at the USDA during the Clinton administration made organic standards, and the increasingly common USDA organic seal, a reality for thousands of farmers, hundreds of companies and tens of millions of consumers. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic industry sales now top more than $31 billion and account for more than 500,000 jobs, while advancing the protection of human health and the environment. If anyone can think of an agricultural policymaker who has made similarly important contributions to America's farm and food system in recent decades, please do send those names along.
As the number two official at the USDA since 2009, Kathleen continued her high-profile, high-impact leadership. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program that she established has helped to build local and regional food systems across the country. And no one understood the importance of feeding kids healthy food and the impact of vibrant local farm economies better than Kathleen.
With Kathleen stepping down, I find myself much more concerned about the administration's next moves in food and agriculture policy than I am about Kathleen's. I can't wait to see what she'll accomplish in this next phase of her remarkable career, and wish her the very best as she pursues it.