Agriculture’s Message

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

I wasn’t going to go down this road, but a CNN discussion and article that I have in front of me should not be ignored.

Here is their criticism – they used internal e-mails from USDA that show “big food lobbyists are working hand-in-glove with agency staffers.” Now, they do admit that no one is committing any legal violation. But they seem to have a real problem with USDA listening to former employees and food industry leaders.

The e-mails show where the National Grocers Association sent USDA some talking points for Secretary Perdue to use when he speaks to the National Grocers Association.

Terrible! Secretary Perdue even used some of the talking points verbatim that were sent to him. USDA Communications Director Tim Murtaugh said, “It is a common practice among speechwriters to gather information from the organizers of events.”

I have given a lot of speeches in my day. I always want to know what issues the audience would want me to talk about. When I served as Secretary of Agriculture, it was very necessary to know where they stood. That doesn’t mean that you would endorse all of their points. If you don’t support their position, explain why. Maybe there is a chance to find middle ground. If I was scheduled to speak to the Illinois Farm Bureau, maybe I would talk to the President of the IFB before preparing my remarks.

The CNN article had this to say: “The federal government should be creating the talking points for a Cabinet head, not a trade association. Government agencies are continuing to pursue the special interest agenda. This is a profound betrayal of Trump’s drain-the-swamp promise.”

The President has been very successful in draining the EPA swamp of regulations. However, we want his Secretary of Agriculture to listen to the farmers and ranchers – listen to the food processors and exporters.

I think we should appreciate the value that lobbyists provide. Farmers and ranchers want to get their advice to the President and Secretary of Agriculture. They want to be heard. Most of them don’t have the connections or time to try to get their message out. That’s why the U.S. corn growers, pork producers, cattlemen, CropLife, and others have lobbyists to ensure that their policy position is understood.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to

More From


Subscribe to receive OFW’s Food & Agriculture World Insights Newsletter.

IT Support by SADOSSecure, Fast Hosting for WordPress