President Barack Obama has chosen Kathleen Merrigan, a professor who worked on the original organic labeling rules under the Clinton administration, as the No. 2 at the Department of Agriculture.

Merrigan, now a professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, led the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service from 1999-2001, and before that, worked on the staff of Senator Patrick Leahy with whom she worked on passing a law that recognized organic agriculture.

She has also worked as an analyst with the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, a consultant with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and in various capacities at the state level in Texas.

Progressive and sustainable ag advocates are so far delighted with the selection.

The sustainable ag community has came out in force the last few months as Obama’s cabinet took shape, asking for USDA leaders who could bring reform to America’s agriculture system by refocusing it on food. Merrigan is one of the “Sustainable Dozen”-nominated by Food Democracy Now! for the deputy position.

Secretary Tom Vilsack was at first received with lukewarm responses, but Merrigan’s appointment might help warm that.

Steph Larsen writes at Ethicurean: “Today is a big day for all of us who believe not only in sustainable food and agriculture systems, but also in the democratic process. The months since the election brought an outpouring of engagement from citizens urging the Obama Administration to appoint change-makers to lead our country.”

Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition tells Reuters, “Sustainable and organic farmers are excited … that someone who has been associated with these issues her whole career is going to be at that level in the department.”

And, Brian Depew, of the Center for Rural Affairs (whose Executive Director Chuck Hassebrook was also in the running for the job), hailed the pick Tuesday writing on the center’s blog, “I am hard pressed to think of another person I would be as pleased with as Kathleen in the number two position at USDA. This is a wise and bold move on the part of the Obama Administration and Secretary Vilsack.”

© 2009 NewWest