Sonny Perdue: In the Pocket of Big Ag

Trump’s ag secretary nominee could spell disaster for Americans and the planet

In the U.S., cattle emit 5.5 million metric tons of methane — a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

From seed to plate, what we grow in America should be sustainable for our planet and support the interests of all farmers — including those who provide organic fruit and vegetables. But the nomination of former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture promises troubling intimacy with the meat and dairy industries he would regulate.

As a former agribusiness CEO and friend of Big Ag, Perdue would bring a renewed commitment to favoring factory farms and unsustainable methods of food production that put our environment, our national food security, our organic food producers and our health in danger.

Studies show this isn’t what Americans want. Trends in food purchasing reveal that most of us want food that is affordable, healthy, sustainable and humanely produced. Americans want our tax dollars to support smart agriculture and food systems, not prop up dangerous farming practices and poison wildlife, water and communities with millions of pounds of pesticides and trillions of pounds of toxic animal waste.

Climate Change Denier

Unfortunately, Perdue’s track record points us in the opposite direction. As governor of Georgia, Perdue called the science of climate change “a joke” that is “disconnected from reality.” In 2007, Perdue responded to climate change-induced drought by holding a public vigil for rain — rather than using his executive powers to regulate industries like animal agriculture that contribute to climate change and use massive amounts of water.

Prayer is not policy and we cannot reach our climate change goals without establishing a sustainable food system. Nor can we protect clean air and water and the endangered species that depend on healthy habitats if the USDA can’t stand up to industry and doesn’t accept the science of climate change.

Nearly 60 percent of the carbon footprint of the average U.S. household diet comes from animal products and contributes to climate change. Meat production is responsible for at least 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Anti-environmental Protections

As governor, Perdue supported the expansion of factory farms and opposed efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. He consistently voted in support of fewer environmental regulations for factory farms — and he voted to eliminate laws that would help the government fight agricultural pollution.

80 percent of U.S. agricultural land is used for raising animals and feed crops. More than half of the grain grown in the country goes to feeding livestock, and nearly half of the water used goes to meat production.

Before becoming governor, Perdue owned an inorganic fertilizer company. Inorganic, phosphate-based fertilizer is used for nearly all the crops grown in the U.S. — most of which go to feed livestock. Strip mining for phosphate violently transforms the health of ecosystems around it, recently causing a massive sinkhole that dumped 215 million gallons of contaminated water into Florida’s drinking water. Additionally, chemical runoff from inorganic fertilizer pollutes our creeks, rivers, lakes and coastal areas. It causes toxic algae blooms, dead zones and poisoned aquatic life.

This unsustainable system is driven by an enormous amount of meat and dairy in the American diet — which is reinforced by the USDA’s dietary guidelines. With the clock ticking on climate change goals and wildlife extinction, it is vital that the USDA brings environmental sustainability to food production and the American dietary guidelines — and a fertilizer magnate with ties to Big Ag may not be able to meet the task at hand.

In the Pocket of Industry

Perdue’s position as a longtime friend of industry — as well as his ties to big players in Washington — is also financially worrisome for taxpayers. Perdue took over $330,000 in campaign contributions from Monsanto and other agricultural mega-polluters. GMO lobbyists even named him 2009 Governor of the Year.

As head of the USDA, Perdue would be charged with managing a $150 billion budget and overseeing 100,000 employees. He would become a key player in food policy, including the upcoming, highly-contested Farm Bill, which impacts consumers and small farmers as well as the environment. The USDA has already been under fire for uneven distribution of funds to the meat and dairy industry — bailing out failing industries instead of letting consumer demand and sustainable food policies direct the future of food production.

Mount Shasta: Shasta-Trinity National Forest. (Photo: Jennifer Molidor.)

Public Lands Nightmare

If confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue would not only oversee the agricultural sector but also the U.S. Forest Service and our national forests — from the rainforests of Alaska to the Appalachians in the South, and the wildlife that call these places home. But Georgia’s forests are largely industrial tree plantations — which is a model that would be a disaster for our national forests.

The Need for a Sustainable Food System

Americans need a leader who sees the intrinsic value in public lands and wildlife, not just profit margins and commodities; who will protect our small farmers and migrant workers along with the sustainability of the food we put on our plates — not bailout corporate giants of industry. We are gravely concerned that Perdue cannot meet these needs as secretary of agriculture.

Just yesterday, Trump ordered a clampdown on information from publicly-funded agencies. And Perdue’s record promises to support that suppression, particularly regarding climate change. His confirmation poses a disaster to the planet. And we can’t let that happen.

Take action:

· Contact your senators and ask them not to support the confirmation of Sonny Perdue.

· Sign the petition demanding the USDA support sustainable agricultural policies and protect our national food security.

Jennifer Molidor is the senior food campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.