Tufts Prof. Merrigan tapped for No 2 USDA post

WASHINGTON Mon Feb 23, 2009 6:28pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama chose Kathleen Merrigan, an assistant professor at Tufts University who helped develop U.S. organic food labeling rules, for the Agriculture Department's No 2 job, the White House said on Monday.

Merrigan, tapped for deputy secretary of Agriculture, was head of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service from 1999-2001 during the Clinton era and helped develop USDA's rules on what can be sold as organic food. As a Senate aide, she worked on the 1990 law that recognized organic farming.

"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," said Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Hoefner encouraged the Senate to confirm Merrigan for the post.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was confirmed on Jan 20. The deputy agriculture secretary usually oversees day-to-day operations of USDA.

Merrigan, who went to work at Tufts in Boston after serving at USDA, has worked at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture and as a consultant for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization from 1994-99. She worked on the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee from 1987-92. She has a doctoral degree in environmental planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Earlier this month, Vilsack said he submitted several suggestions to the White House to fill slots at USDA.

(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by David Gregorio)

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