(UPDATED COVERAGE, March 19) Kathleen Merrigan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s deputy secretary, is departing the post she has held since the start of the Obama administration.
Known for her involvement in organics and her promotion of local produce through the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, Merrigan didn’t provide details on her next position, according to news reports.
Merrigan characterized her four years of service part of an ambitious first term that involved implementing the 2008 farm bill, improving school meals, expanding opportunities for farmers and helping shepherd USDA budgets through challenging times, she said in a statement.
“I hope that during my tenure, I was able to help open USDA’s doors a little wider, inviting new and discouraged constituencies to participate in USDA programs,” Merrigan said in a news release.
In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he appreciates Merrigan’s service.
“USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has helped USDA achieve record results over the past four years,” Vilsack said in a news release. “She has played a vital role in the department-wide focus on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, as well as our efforts to achieve budget efficiencies and savings during an uncertain budget time. Deputy Secretary Merrigan has led USDA’s efforts to implement important regulations, and she has been an important advocate for a strong National Organic Program.”
As administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service from 1999 to 2001, Merrigan was recognized for her heavy involvement in implementing the National Organic Program in 2000.
She was an aide to Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., during passage of the federal organic program authorization legislation in the 1990 farm bill.
From 2001 until taking her No. 2 USDA post, Merrigan was an assistant professor and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment master’s and doctoral program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.
Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said Merrigan is a supporter of the fresh produce industry.
“Deputy Secretary Merrigan has been a strong advocate for healthy eating and the affordability of fruits and vegetables, using both PMA’s and the USDA’s research to bust the myth that eating healthfully is expensive,” Silbermann said in a news release. “While Deputy Secretary Merrigan leaves a mark as an advocate for the National Organic Program that’s to be admired, she never wavered from her commitment to represent the voice of the entire agricultural industry.
“This true mark of leadership can be exemplified in her numerous meetings with PMA’s government affairs committee and the open door she offered PMA and our members,” Silbermann said in the release.