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Merrigan Named Deputy Secretary of the USDA

Merrigan Named Deputy Secretary of the USDAJust two days after her testimony before the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee, Kathleen Merrigan is appointed by the U.S. Senate as the new Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Boston [04.06.09] On Apr.3, just a month after President Barack Obama announced Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D. as his nominee for the position of Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she was confirmed for the new role by the U.S. Senate. Merrigan, an assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program, is expected to take over as head of day-to-day operations for the USDA in a little over a week.

"Kathleen Merrigan is certainly no stranger to this Committee, and we welcome her today," said Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the nomination hearing on Apr. 1. "The Deputy Secretary has a very demanding role, spanning the entirety of USDA's responsibilities.The person in that role must of course be capable of carrying out the job, but she must also understand the range of food, agriculture, and rural issues - and be committed to serving all of the people who rely on the Department of Agriculture."

He expressed confidence in Merrigan's ability to deliver.

"She has a strong and diverse background working on many issues in food and agriculture, and to improve opportunities for people in agriculture and in rural communities," Harkin added.

Merrigan has a long track record of doing just that.

Before coming to Tufts in 2001, Merrigan spent two years as head of the Agricultural Marketing Service developing the USDA's organic labeling rules. Responsible for managing the $1.2 billion agency, Merrigan helped with mandated programs such as national organic standards, pesticide data collection, and market price reporting and with the procurement of commodities for domestic feeding programs including National School Lunch.

Merrigan's role at Tufts is spread amongst four positions, an adjunct faculty member for the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, director of the Center on Agriculture, Food and the Environment (AFE), assistant professor at the Friedman School and director of the AFE Program.

As an adjunct faculty member for the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, she helped launch a garden-based learning initiative with local a local Chinatown elementary school.

At the Friedman School, Merrigan teaches three courses, Fundamentals of Public Policy and Agricultural Science and Policy I and II, serves on the master and undergraduate thesis committees for Tufts Urban and  Environmental Policy and Planning, Anthropology and International Relations Departments and is a major contributor to Tufts Open Courseware, a new educational movement that provides free access to course content for everyone online.

The AFE program fuses the disciplines of nutrition, agricultural science, environmental studies and public policy, offering M.S., Ph.D. and dual-degree programs, diverse community service and internship placements, and opportunities to participate in research on sustainable agriculture, local food systems, and consumer behavior related to food and the environment.

In her testimony on Apr. 1, Merrigan noted how honored she was just to have been nominated for the position, assuring the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee of the commitment she would put forward if appointed.

"American agriculture must remain competitive. To this end, creative and supportive marketing programs and science-based regulations are essential. Investments in science and research must be made, but these investments will yield greater results if they are targeted, monitored, and evaluated," Merrigan told the committee. "I also believe that a strong farm safety net must be maintained to uphold and honor those men and women who persevere, despite the odds, and work hard every day to deliver wholesome safe food to people around the world."

Merrigan will be one of the the first senior-level officials to join Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in running USDA, according to Reuters. With a budget of $100 billion a year, the USDA is in charge of national forests, public nutrition, farm supports, agricultural research and export promotion.


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