Legislative Activity

Sonny Perdue Selected for USDA Secretary

With the selection of Sonny Perdue, former two-term governor of Georgia, to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), President Trump’s Cabinet picks are complete. Perdue must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a simple majority vote before his position as USDA Secretary is official. As Secretary, Perdue would oversee nearly 110,000 USDA employees covering a wide range of issues pertaining to food and agriculture. Over the past several weeks, relevant Senate committees have presided over hearings to examine most of President Trump’s Cabinet nominations. Additional nomination hearings are scheduled for this week. The Senate has confirmed two of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees:  Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis; and Secretary of Homeland Security, General John F. Kelly. The remaining 13 presumed executive department heads await a confirmation vote. The Senate has yet to announce a nomination hearing for Perdue, but as one of the more uncontroversial nominees, he will likely enjoy a swift and smooth confirmation process.

Regulatory Activity

USDA Issues Organic Animal Welfare Rule

Last week, less than 48 hours before President Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) within USDA issued a final rule that sets new production and living standards for the organic livestock and poultry industry. The rule sets specific indoor and outdoor densities for organic chickens, requires the outdoor space for organic poultry to include soil and vegetation, and clarifies the treatment of organic livestock and poultry. While proponents argue the rule will ensure consistency and fairness across the organic livestock and poultry industry, some have publicly opposed the rule, including chairmen of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), respectively, and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Their main concern is that compliance costs associated with the rule could put some producers out of business. As President Trump has promised to ease the regulatory burden on America’s farmers and ranchers, it is likely Congress will work closely with the Trump Administration to roll back, or seek significant changes to, the newly-issued rule.