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Departure of USDA's No. 2 Official Deals Blow to Sustainable Agriculture

In an essay for Grist, Tom Laskawy laments the departure of deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the Obama administration's "most powerful supporter of local and organic foods," from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
March 25, 2013, 2pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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According to Laskaway, last week's announcement that Merrigan is leaving the USDA could represent a major blow to the sustainable food movement in the United States. "Sustainable agriculture groups responded with dismay and disappointment to what the Columbus Dispatch described as her 'abrupt' departure. The food industry publication The Packer speculated that this could spell 'the end of local food at USDA.'"

"Merrigan is best known for her local foods initiative called Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, which brought all of the agency’s efforts to improve regional and local food systems under one conceptual roof," explains Laskaway. "Merrigan is also credited with preserving strong standards for the Organic label, championing a national farm-to-school program, funding hoop houses to allow farmers to grow later into the season, and acting as a key player in the effort to improve the foods sold in school vending machines."

"One is left hoping that Merrigan is right — that there’s enough institutional momentum behind her work that it continues in her absence," writes Laskaway. "But institutions like USDA are far more often driven by inertia from the status quo — and at the USDA, the status quo ain’t exactly local and organically grown. Kathleen Merrigan will be sorely missed."

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Published on Monday, March 25, 2013 in Grist
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