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The USDA's Grade A Liberal
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Personal profiles; Public officials; Agricultural policy
Author: Grunwald, Michael
Date: Jan 27, 2000
Start Page: A.25
Section: A SECTION

Kathleen Ann Merrigan has been known to wear Birkenstocks. She eats granola, too. Her husband, a law professor who writes about gender equity, is now a stay-at-home dad. She describes her new job managing more than 10,000 public employees as "groovy." And she scrapped her agency's annual Christmas party because she thought it might offend non-Christians.

Yes, Merrigan is a right-wing nightmare come true, an unreconstructed liberal activist in charge of a billion-dollar bureaucracy. In her last job, at the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, she helped organize a massive grass-roots campaign to scuttle the U.S. Department of Agriculture's modest proposed standards for organic food. In her new job, running the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), she's rewriting that very proposal.

It is unusual enough--and to some farm constituencies, scary enough--that an outspoken advocate of sustainable agriculture (which places strong emphasis on social and environmental do-goodism) has seized control of the high-stakes organic food debate. But her bailiwick now extends far beyond the nation's 12,000 or so organic farmers. The AMS also runs the school lunch program, decides what constitutes USDA Prime beef and Grade A eggs and oversees the department's 50-plus advisory committees.

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