Perdue is first veterinarian to head U.S. Agriculture Department

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Dr. Sonny Perdue was sworn in as the 31st secretary of the Department of Agriculture on April 25, becoming the first veterinarian to serve as agriculture secretary and as part of a U.S. president’s Cabinet. The Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick to head the USDA the previous day by a vote of 87 to 11.

Dr. Perdue
Dr. Sonny Perdue (Courtesy of USDA/Lance Cheung)

“The only legacy that I seek is the only one that any grandparent or parent seeks: to be good stewards, and to hand off our nation, our home, our fields, our forests, and our farms to the next generation in better shape than we found it,” Dr. Perdue said. “Making sure that Americans who make their livelihoods in the agriculture industry have the ability to thrive will be one of my top priorities. I am committed to serving the customers of USDA, and I will be an unapologetic advocate for American agriculture.”

According to a USDA statement, Secretary Perdue’s policies as agriculture secretary will be guided by four principles. First, empower the nation’s agriculture and agribusiness sector to create jobs, to produce and sell the foods and fiber that feed and clothe the world, and to reap the earned reward of that labor. “It should be the aim of the American government to remove every obstacle and give farmers, ranchers, and producers every opportunity to prosper,” the USDA said.

Second, prioritize customer service for U.S. taxpayers and consumers. They will expect—and have every right to demand—that their government conduct the people’s business efficiently, effectively, and with the utmost integrity, according to the USDA.

Third, as Americans expect a safe and secure food supply, the department will continue to serve in the critical role of ensuring the food Americans eat meets the strict safety standards already established. “Food security is a key component of national security, because hunger and peace do not long coexist,” the USDA said.

And finally, always remember that America’s agricultural bounty comes directly from the land.

The AVMA welcomed Secretary Perdue’s confirmation in a statement saying that with the country facing challenges and opportunities requiring veterinary expertise, such as animal health and food safety, having strong veterinary leadership at the department is more important than ever.

“Veterinarians possess unique medical expertise that drives scientifically sound policy decisions,” the AVMA said. “Veterinary leadership at all levels of the USDA is crucial to creating and executing effective policies, and Secretary Perdue’s appointment is an encouraging sign that veterinarians will continue to be valued at the agency.”

Dr. George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue III was born in Perry, Georgia, to a farmer and schoolteacher in 1946. After receiving his DVM degree from the University of Georgia in 1971, Dr. Perdue served in the Air Force until 1974, retiring as a captain. Following a brief stint practicing veterinary medicine in Raleigh, North Carolina, he returned to Georgia, where he became a small-business owner and, eventually, a public servant.

Dr. Perdue spent a decade in the Georgia senate before twice being elected governor, first in 2002 and again four years later by nearly a 60 percent majority.

Related JAVMA content:

Trump taps veterinarian, former governor, as ag secretary (March 1, 2017)

Veterinarians win key races in Colorado, Georgia (Dec. 15, 2002)