Perdue talks deregulation to National Farmers Union members

The Hagstrom Report
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue addresses the National Farmers Union on Sept. 11 in Washington.
The Hagstrom Report |

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue devoted most of a speech to the National Farmers Union on Sept. 11 to his enthusiasm for deregulation.

At a session in the USDA Jefferson Auditorium, Perdue told the most Democratic-leaning of farm groups he is “happy” to serve a president who wants to deregulate the country.

Perdue said he was at a meeting with the American Feed Industry Association about the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is under control of the Food and Drug Administration. Perdue said he wished it was “under USDA” and, “we would have a different view of it.”

“No one is against food safety,” Perdue said, but the costs and regulations have to be weighed carefully.

He also pointed out some of the regulations that bother farmers the most do not come from USDA, but rather from other agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. He also noted he took Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to one of the Washington restaurants owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union and lobbied him on the H-2A temporary visa program for foreign agricultural workers.

“Often regulations are written by attorneys who have never been on the farm,” he said. “Farming is not a sterile business, it is a biologically transformative business.”

The Food Safety Modernization Act, he said, is like kudzu, the well-known invasive species in the South that “can grow everywhere.” FSMA rules, he said, could end up involving “a lot of things that do not have to do with food safety.”

Perdue said when he ran for governor of Georgia, he told people he was coming from the farm and agribusiness world with “boots, gloves and a shovel.” He added he went to Washington to “shovel things out.”

Perhaps aware that NFU members had a strong relationship with Tom Vilsack, the Agriculture secretary under President Barack Obama, and often disagreed with Republican administrations, Perdue said he is aware he and NFU “won’t agree on everything,” but he has a “passionate vision” of USDA to be the most efficient and best managed agency in the federal government, and he believes a good leader has a vision, “but keeps the back door open for a better idea.”

The 300 NFU members in Washington for a fly-in on the farm bill gave Perdue the usual standing ovation agriculture secretaries get from farmers and ranchers.

Asked for his reaction to Perdue’s speech, NFU President Roger Johnson told The Hagstrom Report his members are not as concerned about deregulation as they are about losing health care and passing a good farm bill that maintains renewable energy programs.

Renewable energy is not only important for the environment, Johnson said, but “incredibly important for rural development.”

Johnson said he was impressed by a speech earlier that morning by Anne Hazlett, Perdue’s assistant for rural development. That speech, he said, “could have been written by one of our members.”

Currently Perdue is the only Senate-confirmed official at USDA, which Johnson said means he can’t “dig deeper” into policy until he has a bigger staff.

“I feel sorry for the secretary because he is running the whole show,” Johnson said.