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Hooray! Obama Nominates Kathleen Merrigan (One of the "Sustainable Dozen") as Deputy Sec. of Ag.

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Feb 23, 2009 at 16:17:13 PM PST

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Obama announced today that he will nominate Kathleen A. Merrigan for Deputy Secretary of the USDA. She was among the Sustainable Dozen requested as high level USDA appointees by the Food Democracy Now campaign. Hat tip to Mark Lipson for sending this my way. For other perspectives on this great victory, check out Tom Laskawy's post on his blog, Sam Fromartz at Chews Wise, Tom Philpott at Grist, Eddie at Obama Foodorama, Paula Crossfield at Civil Eats, Ezra Klein, Treehugger, and Steph Larsen's post at The Ethicurean.

Info below...

Jill Richardson :: Hooray! Obama Nominates Kathleen Merrigan (One of the "Sustainable Dozen") as Deputy Sec. of Ag.
  • PhD in Environmental Planning and Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Master of Public Affairs, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas
  • B.A. in Political Science and English, Williams College.



Organic Livestock Standards
Merrigan's report on organic livestock standards is nothing short of FANTASTIC! However, the paper notes that it is a list of standards used around the world and that not everybody agrees on one standard. Therefore, while I wish I could say the paper was a recommendation of comprehensive organic standards for livestock, it looks like it is more of a brainstorming list of all of the facets that might be covered by organic standards.

Some of the standards included in the paper are:

  • Choosing breeds that resist disease or other health problems and do not need "mutilations" i.e tail docking. Recommendation to choose indigenous breeds and breeds adapted to local conditions and organic production systems.

  • Natural reproduction.

  • Sick animals must be treated, even if this means loss of organic status

  • Disease prevention should be based on diet and exercise (as opposed to sub-therapeutic antibiotics)

  • "All organic standards require meeting each animal's nutritional needs, severely restrict feeds of animal origin, prohibit growth promoters in feed, restrict vitamin and mineral supplements, prohibit/restrict feeding of pure amino acids, establish preferential or exclusive use of organic feeds, or require access to pasture and roughage (at least for ruminants)."

  • Young mammals must get colostrum and milk (if not maternal milk, preferably organic
    milk from their own species)

  • Animals must have enough space to exercise and permit natural behavior

  • Tethering is restricted or prohibited

The paper goes on with specifications for each animal, for example, restrictions on keeping calves in individual boxes, cows must be fed a diet that prevents acidosis, poultry may not be kept in cages, forced molting should not be done to laying hens, sows may not be kept in farrowing crates, and pigs should live in an area that allows natural behaviors like rooting.

Testimony to Senate Ag Committee on the Conservation Security Program
First of all, this is a GREAT program and I'm glad to see that Kathleen Merrigan supports it. As she puts it "The Bottom Line: CSP Works." She calls it (and programs like it with "green payments") "the future of of agricultural support." In other words - instead of paying for maximum yield as we do now, which often leads to terrible treatment of our air, water, and soil - under CSP we pay farmers for good stewardship of the earth. This isn't a program where we pay farmers not to grow crops. Instead, we pay farmers for conservation practices on working lands.

Another good point from Merrigan's testimony is her statement that most of CSP's challenges arose from lack of funding. It's a great program that has been miserably underfunded - good to see she thinks so too. Merrigan calls for full funding.

The paper covers case studies of 8 farms in several New England states. The farms ranged from 8 to 1800 acres and included dairy, potato, cranberry, apple, beef, and conventional and organic vegetables. These farms received payments ranging from $8/acre/year and $45/acre/year depending on the number of conservation practices being done on a farm and the average regional rental rate for farmland.

The stewardship practices rewarded fell into 9 categories (expected to soon be 10, with a public relations category added). These categories include: pest management, nutrient management, soil management, and water management.

She notes CSP's intent to "reward the best and motivate the rest" and its inability to do so due to lack of funding. If the program isn't even available to most farmers, how the heck is it going to motivate them to change their conservation practices if they have no chance of participating in the program?

She also notes complexity in the program that serves as a barrier to its successful implementation. She requests that the program become more farmer-friendly, and that they provide more technical assistance to farmers to allow them to participate in the program.

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Sounds great, thanks for the news! (4.00 / 4)
Looking forward to more information on her... :)

Oh, and... (4.00 / 3)
When I get back in a bit I'm gonna take a look at another key appointment from today, in that same article -

Tom Strickland, a former U.S. Attorney in Colorado, is to be nominated for assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the Department of the Interior.

Btw - why was Reuters UK the one to break this?  Was our media too focused on American Idol, or on seeking out Republican opinions on the economy or something?

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