041205 U.S. Appoints New Agriculture Secretary

December 2, 2004

Washington, DC - A new U.S. agriculture secretary was named, a development welcomed by the Canadian Cattlemen's Association at a critical juncture for resolving the beef battle with Canada.

Mike Johanns, the Nebraska governor, was chosen to replace Ann Veneman, who led efforts to protect the U.S. food supply after the mad cow crisis and resolve the trade dispute. "I look forward to building on her good work," said Johanns, 54, who was born in Iowa and raised on a dairy farm.

His position must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. "I have devoted a substantial amount of my time promoting rural economic development and ag issues."

With efforts to drop the U.S. cattle ban now in their final stages, industry experts said Johanns' appointment by President George W. Bush will have a positive impact on the process.

The president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association was upbeat about the appointment. Stan Eby said the Nebraska governor knows the cattle industry and has a reputation for supporting free trade.

"This man is from a strong agricultural state, a major cattle-feeding state. We feel very positive he will understand our BSE situation and move quickly on the file," Eby said from his farm in Kincardine, Ont.

"Our understanding is that he is an open-minded trader. This is a positive move." Jay Truitt, a lobbyist for the U.S. National Cattlemen's Beef Association agreed: "I can't think it would be anything but helpful."

"He's shown in the past that he's a man of action. He's not afraid to put himself right in the middle of a debate."

One of the last beef trade hurdles was cleared late last month when the U.S. Office of Budget and Management started reviewing a draft rule to end the cattle ban and allow more Canadian products to flow south.

The office has up to 90 days but could take less time. After that, it's up to the Agriculture Department to publish the rule before Congress gets 60 days to consider it.

Although the rule hasn't been made public, U.S. officials said it includes renewed trade in cattle younger than 30 months of age, considered at lower risk for contracting mad cow, plus beef products from older cows.

Canadian producers, who have lost some $5 billion Cdn during the 18-month ban, were disappointed Bush didn't give them a more definitive timetable when he met in Ottawa this week with Prime Minister Paul Martin.

"I've sent word over that they need to expedite that request as quickly as possible," Bush told a news conference.

"As quickly as possible, young cows ought to be allowed to go across the border." The U.S. cattleman's association, a staunch supporter of renewed trade, feels good about recent developments, said Truitt.

"The important thing is, the process is going now, it's moving. That's a long way from where we were in August or September."

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who talked briefly with Bush at a private reception, said he thinks the border will be open by March.

The United States banned all imports of Canadian cattle and beef in May 2003 after a lone Alberta cow tested positive for mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Last fall, Americans began taking boneless cuts from animals under 30 months of age. But trade in live cattle and beef products from older cows was hindered by the discovery of mad cow in a Canadian-born Holstein in Washington state last December, as well as legal challenges and the politics of the U.S. election campaign.

Both Canada and the United States have implemented similar measures to ensure the safety of the beef supply, including more BSE testing and banning animal tissues considered more prone to the disease from the food chain.

One protectionist ranchers' group based in Montana, R-CALF U.S.A, has threatened legal action against attempts to open the border.

But observers note most of the U.S. industry supports resuming comprehensive trade and they don't think R-CALF will be able to stop it.

Veneman is one of seven cabinet ministers to announce they won't serve during Bush's second term. Johanns, a lawyer, became mayor of Lincoln, Neb., in 1991. He won the governor's office in 1998 and was re-elected in 2002.


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