- President-elect Donald Trump nominated former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be the next secretary of agriculture, according to The Hill. "Sonny Perdue is going to accomplish great things as Secretary of Agriculture," Trump said in a statement. Members of his transition team confirmed the nomination to several news outlets, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Politico and Reuters, on Wednesday night.
- Perdue, Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, was first elected to the position in 2002 and remained in office until 2011.
- A veterinarian turned politician, Perdue grew up on a dairy farm in central Georgia and has owned several agricultural businesses. As a governor, he was known for pursuing several international trade agreements.
After a long and drawn out process of considering several diverse candidates, Donald Trump's final Cabinet nominee has been named just two days before inauguration. Perdue's name had surfaced as the front runner for the USDA nomination weeks ago, but no confirmation came until Wednesday night.
Perdue is a well-known Republican who supports rolling back regulations, which some producers might find good for business. Not much is known about his general outlook on food manufacturing policy, nutrition or food safety.
Perdue, who is not affiliated with the large Maryland-based chicken producer of the same name, had an extensive interview with the president-elect in late November. According to news reports, Perdue told reporters that the president-elect “lit up” when he detailed his experience with “agricultural commodities, trading domestically and internationally."
Perdue told The New York Times that Trump had quizzed him about what he would do regarding unfair trade deals, saying he thought U.S. citizens "had been sort of patsies" on those issues. Before his selection, Perdue told Politico that Trump felt that Americans had been "tariffed out" of certain trading markets, and the next agriculture secretary must work to level the playing field. This expertise on trade issues would likely be welcomed by many in the industry, considering the U.S. depends on agricultural exports and faces food trade issues both close to home and farther away.
The last-minute naming of a USDA nominee, however, has called into question the importance that Trump's administration places on the food and agriculture sectors. Reports said the president-elect was pressured into placing a Latino or a woman in the slot — both of which he interviewed in recent weeks. If all of his nominees are confirmed, Trump's cabinet will be dominated by white men and will have just three women and one black man. It will be the first administration since Ronald Reagan's without a Cabinet-level Latino.
After Purdue's name came out as the USDA pick, reactions from groups was mixed.
Grocery Manufacturers Association President and CEO Pamela G. Bailey issued a statement Thursday morning praising the pick.
“As Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue’s agricultural business background and experience as governor will serve the U.S. well," the statement says. "GMA looks forward to working with him on issues key to keeping America's food the safest and most affordable food supply in the history of the world.”
In a statement, Perdue was called an "outstanding nominee" by American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duval. "He understands the challenges facing rural America because that’s where he was born and raised," Duvall said in a statement. "He is a businessman who recognizes the impact immigration reform, trade agreements and regulation have on a farmer’s bottom line and ability to stay in business from one season to the next."
Environmental activists were less enthusiastic. A statement from Friends of the Earth Deputy Director of Food and Technology Kari Hamerschlag urged caution. "Given Perdue’s position with a global agribusiness trading company and his actions as governor, we are concerned that Perdue will use his position at the USDA to prioritize the profits of big agribusiness and trade over the interests of American farmers, workers and consumers."