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Secretary of Agriculture Perdue’s inbox is filled to the brim

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue is president-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of agriculture.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue is President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of agriculture.

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is likely less than a week away from being confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the nation’s 31st Secretary of Agriculture. His confirmation could come as early as April 24.

One thing for certain is that as soon as he does take the oath of his office, Perdue is going to have precious little me-time. There’s already a long line out the door, waiting for the new Secretary of Agriculture to be open for business.

Several issues are going to press Perdue from his first day on the job. The avian influenza crisis has poultry-producing states stepping up their biosecurity measures just as a new federal organic standard mandates more outside roaming areas for poultry.

Perdue is going to have to navigate a clash of cultures, and decide whether disease control alone is sufficient cause for confinement of poultry. As first reported by POLITICO, large organic egg producers want to rollback the organic standards for livestock and poultry.

It’s not entirely clear why one of USDA’s arms went ahead and finalized the requirements for outdoor and space requirements for organic poultry while another unit was battling avian flu that brought the destruction of more than 50 million chickens and turkeys.

Congress could undo the new rule by acting on or before April 28. The new rule actually is to take effect on May 19, which is a date that is probably going to come at Secretary Perdue like a freight train. Delay may be his best option.

The poultry industry is not only troubled by avian flu  hanging around, but is experiencing flocks with certain sicknesses not seen in decades.

USDA did not wait for Perdue’s arrival to delay implementation of the so-called GIPSA rule. If enacted, the GIPSA rule would involve USDA in contracting between food companies and producers, such as a contract chicken farm and Tysons.

Also waiting on Perdue’s desk is the task to be completed over the next 15 months of making the labeling law reality for food with genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

His task is to fill in the details on the law that saw federal preemption of an issue that was played out for several years in state-by-state warfare. Perdue needs to complete a federal disclosure standard for bioengineered ingredients and come up with a symbol, label or electronic method to identify them.

In short, Congress left most of the thinking to the Secretary of Agriculture. It’s probably the biggest item in Perdue’s inbox.

Also Perdue will have to get up to speed fast on plans being made outside of USDA to reform the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). With 10,000 employees and a $1 billion annual budget, FSIS is tasked with continuous inspection of meat, poultry, eggs and, for the past year, catfish.

At a food policy conference earlier this month, speakers from the Pew Charitable Trust and Cargill Inc. outlined plans for meat safety reform that might be done on the scale of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

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