Deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the author of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, Merrigan is widely regarded as the moving force behind the development of federal organic standards. She is an outspoken advocate of moving federal farm policies toward conservation and sustainable land use. After receiving a Fulbright fellowship to study pesticide use in Poland, Merrigan joined the staff of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee in 1987. She then earned her Ph.D. at MIT, where she also worked as a senior analyst for the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture. From there she was appointed to the National Organics Standards Board. In 1999, Bill Clinton appointed Merrigan to head the USDA’s Marketing Service. At the end of Clinton’s presidency, Merrigan moved to Tufts University, where she directed the Center on Agriculture, Food, and Environment. In 2009, President Obama tapped her to become the deputy secretary of agriculture.