Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue thinks it would be an over-reaction for USDA to embargo Brazilian beef because of that country’s federal investigation of meat inspectors being bribed to overlook standards for exported meat.

Former Georgia Gov. Sunny Perdue testified before the Senate ag committee March 23 during his confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of agriculture.
Former Georgia Gov. Sunny Perdue testified before the Senate ag committee March 23 during his confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of agriculture. Photo illustration courtesy of the Senate ag committee.

Perdue responded to questioning by Sen. John Thune, R-SD, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, which lasted about three hours Thursday.

The Secretary of Agriculture-designate  has “faith” in  the response of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) response to the Brazilian beef scandal. While there have not been any shipments to the United States from any of the specific meat plants involved, FSIS has announced any raw or ready-to-eat beef shipments from Brazil will be subjected to additional pathogen testing.

“If we go to embargoing there likely will be retaliation, perhaps around the world,” Perdue said in explaining that an embargo of Brazilian beef is not necessary and could backfire on the United States.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking Democrat on the Senate ag committee, is on record with a suggestion that FSIS conduct “a larger review of its equivalency finding for Brazil’s food safety system.”

Perdue was not specifically asked about the suggestion and did not express an opinion on the idea.

To the hearing, Perdue brought with him the bipartisan endorsements of the past six secretaries of agriculture, backing from almost 700 farm, ranch and agricultural organizations, and a large extended family including four children and 14 grandchildren, including some number of red-tie-wearing grandsons.

Each committee member got about five minutes to ask the nominee questions, and he often began his answer by saying “If confirmed, …” He fielded some specific questions about President Trump’s so-called “skinny budget,” which cuts about $4.7 billion from the USDA budget.

Perdue said he was not involved in preparing the budget and did not see it until it was released to the public. As for specifics, he expressed a willingness to help committee members get funding restored for research, conservation and rural utilities.

The questioning was hardly pointed and did Perdue never seemed pressed. Perdue said he is open to exploring a wider role for USDA in everything from opioids, summertime school lunches and rural broadband service.

Perdue seemed to give a warm embrace to everyone’s agenda, and most committee members wanted most for him to visit their states.

“Now, more than ever, agriculture needs a voice — an advocate — at the highest levels of government,” said Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS. “And, Gov. Perdue has been nominated to serve in exactly that role. He is from Georgia and has spent his entire life in and around agriculture.

“The governor was raised on a farm and was a practicing veterinarian before returning to his home county to work in the grain business,” Roberts continued. “He was elected to serve in local and state government, including two terms as governor of Georgia. While serving farmers throughout the Southeast, he gained firsthand experience with the complexity of transportation and the global commodities market.”

The committee will take a confirmation vote at its next business meeting, which Roberts said would be scheduled “ASAP.”

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