President Trump has had a busy week, what with signing all of his executive orders, filling positions, and everything else that goes into running a country. He’s even taken upon himself to nominate someone new as the agriculture secretary, and as is common with some of his picks, his choice has many throughout Washington raising their eyebrows in concern over his nominee’s food safety track record. So who did Trump choose? Sonny Perdue, the former Governor of Georgia. If approved, he will be tasked with “helping ensure the safety and quality of America’s food supply.”
But what has people raising their eyebrows? Well, under Perdue, Georgia cut its food safety budget by 29%. Two years after the massive cuts, in 2008, “at least 714 people across 46 states were sickened by salmonella traced to peanut paste produced at a Peanut Corporation of America factory in Blakely, Georgia.” Of those 714 people, nine died. The fiasco resulted in “one of the largest food safety recalls in U.S. history.” In addition to the recall, many executives were jailed, including the CEO of the peanut corporation who was sentenced to “28 years in prison for knowingly shipping tainted products.”
Despite the arrests, people across the country pointed the finger of blame at Georgia’s Agriculture Department and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because they were ultimately responsible for delegating and organizing inspections of the peanut factory. Georgia state officials defended themselves by claiming “manpower and funding prevented inspections that could have spotted the contamination issues.”
What’s that? Funding prevented inspections that could have prevented the entire fiasco? So the food safety budget cuts approved under Perdue were linked to the outbreak. Huh. Is that really who we want in charge? I guess to be fair, he ended up “restoring some of the money that had been cut from his Agriculture Department’s consumer protection division,” and as Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, said, “You had to have a situation where you had a bunch of people die before Georgia got its act together.”
In the aftermath of the peanut factory fiasco, Perdue tried to remedy the situation and smooth rough waters by signing legislation granting regulators the authority to “set higher standards for food safety practices, testing and reporting.” Funding “for a new food processing program” was also approved and the Agriculture Department’s consumer protection division saw a tiny increase in their budget.
Defenders of Perdue claim it’s unclear whether he “personally had a role in cutting Georgia’s food inspection budget.” According to a spokeswoman for the Georgia Agriculture Department, there “are no direct ties to management between the governor and the agriculture commissioner.” Nevertheless, as Governor of the state at the time, he’s the one who has to answer for fiascos like the peanut factory one. And if such an outbreak occurred under his reign in Georgia, what does that mean for America if he’s approved as the nation’s new agriculture secretary? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.