An open letter to Sonny Perdue

What you need right now, to make your job less stressful, is an excellent undersecretary for food safety.

Dr. Richard Raymond 1, Consultant

January 23, 2017

4 Min Read
An open letter to Sonny Perdue

Dear Sonny;

Congratulations on your nomination by President Trump to be the next Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If Senate confirmed, you will have the most awesome conference room of all the cabinet members, mostly because it looks out directly over the Nation’s Mall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Yours will be the only office on the Mall, and you will even have the closest walk to a Metro Station, not that you will be taking the Metro, you will be chauffeured around in nice, black cars.

I know you are a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, you were the Governor of Georgia from 2003-2011 during the great Peanut Debacle, and that you grew up on a farm. You should make a very excellent Secretary.  

What you need right now, to make your job less stressful, is an excellent undersecretary for food safety. If you don’t have one, groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, PETA, Centers for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America and Food and Water Watch will beat down your doors.

Without an undersecretary for food safety, you might even have to testify in front of a Congressional Committee or two if there is a large foodborne illness outbreak traced back to a product you are responsible for.

President Obama evidently did not think the position was too important as that chair sat empty for nearly five of the eight years he was in office. He got lucky.

He did not have a Westland Hallmark Meat Co. recall, the largest in U.S. history. He did not have a TOPPS recall that involved tainted meat from Canada, he did not have to close both the Canadian and Mexican borders to imported meat due to the lack of food safety measures equal to the U.S.’s inspection system.

He did not have the first cow found dead from Mad Cow Disease, he did not have the Jack in the Box disaster, and he did not see any human deaths from “bird flu.”

You won’t be so lucky. History repeats itself. You need someone to prevent disasters, and to respond to them when necessary.

Your man is sitting in your back yard. He is Mike Doyle with the University of Georgia.

I think you would make both the consumer groups mentioned above and the meat and poultry industries very happy.

Because the person who fills the chair of the Undersecretary for Food Safety, just down the hall from your office, Chairs the United States’ Codex Alimentarius Policy Committee in addition to several others and has ultimate responsibility for the safety of our meat and poultry, not to mention egg products and catfish, he or she is considered the top food safety official in the United States.

When Congress reorganized the USDA in 1993, the position of undersecretary for food safety became a Presidential appointment requiring Senate confirmation.

In the 24 years that have followed, there have only been four appointments:

  • Cathy Wotecki, PhD, by President Clinton.

  • Elsa Murano, PhD and myself, MD, by President Bush, and

  • Elisabeth Hagen, MD, by President Obama.

Two MDs, three females one male, two from within the Beltway, two from the Midwest.

Two Republican appointees. Two Democrat appointees.

There is, however, one thing in common.

We all lasted only 1,200 days, give or take a few here and there.

That means someone was at the job just 13 out of those 24 years. Not acceptable.

It is a tough job, one you don’t want to have to fill in for.

Make sure Mike agrees to stay until you are done and then sign him up.

It will take at least six months to get vetted and to get the Senate to vote, so if this is a one-term President, that leaves 1,200 days, give or take a few, for the next undersecretary to serve.

Just like his or her predecessors.

Oh, by the way, George Ervin Perdue III sounds more Secretarial than Sonny, but that is just my thinking.

Oh, and by the way again, the president of the USDA inspectors’ bargaining unit is located down your way in Huntsville, Ala., another good ole boy from the South. Look him up. It could do wonders in smoothing over your Senate hearing and your anticipated tenure at the James Whitten Ag Building.

Enjoy and tell the troops at the USDA hi from me.


Dickie Raymond

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