U.S. agriculture chief Sonny Perdue gets warm welcome at UGA

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue got a friendly welcome as he answered questions from students and faculty in an open session Friday at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

 

Perdue, former Georgia governor and a graduate of UGA and the veterinary college, spoke to a crowd of about 200 gathered in an auditorium in the school’s main building on D.W. Brooks Drive.

Perdue has aroused some controversy in his brief stint as President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary. He’s been criticized for delaying implementation of new health requirements for school lunches enacted during the Obama administration and eliminating a USDA rule designed to help independent growers compete against the big companies that dominate America’s meat-production industries.

But Perdue is credited with helping persuade Trump, at least temporarily, not to end the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Analysts say withdrawing could hurt the U.S. economy, including agriculture.

Perdue had no prepared address, instead fielding questions from vet school faculty and staff ranging from career advice to philosophy to agricultural policy.

“I hope you recognize what a wonderful opportunity and education you’re getting,” Perdue told students in the crowd.

One student wanted to know about the biggest changes in veterinary training since Perdue studied at UGA nearly 50 years ago.

His graduating class was almost entirely men, Perdue responded, but today more women are entering the field.

In answering another question, Perdue predicted a rosy future for large-animal veterinarians.

“The future is so broad and wide,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

In answering other questions, Perdue noted:

• “We’re trying to bring an honest culture” to the agriculture department, with decisions based on data.

• The United States should get more credit for easing worldwide hunger. The country “is doing a whole lot more than world media would have you believe.”

• The USDA doesn’t have enough internship opportunities for students, but “we’re working on that.”

• Agricultural law passed by both houses of Congress in 2014 and signed into law by Obama has been beneficial. The changes put caps on farm subsidies and ended a practice of paying some farmers subsidies even when they didn’t grow crops.

Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.

 

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