Tenn., Feb. 2, 2007 – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns gave the keynote address at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in Nashville. The convention is hosted by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the Cattlemen's Beef Board, American National CattleWomen, the National Cattlemen's Foundation and Cattle-Fax. A capacity crowd of cattle producers from across the nation heard Johanns outline USDA's 2007 Farm Bill proposals, which were released earlier.
Johanns focused on several Farm Bill proposals of particular interest to cattlemen, including programs to assist beginning farmers and ranchers, funding dedicated to enhancing exports and reducing trade barriers, and increased conservation funding for conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Johanns said cattle producers have been among the leading participants in EQIP. But he emphasized that all conservation programs need to be simplified, and their primary objective must be “to reward the best stewards of the land.”
Turning to trade issues, Johanns said his patience has run out with South Korea's continued blocking of U.S. beef shipments, despite the fact that the market is ostensibly open to American beef.
“Korea's (Sept. 2006) announcement about accepting U.S. beef was all about words, not actions,” Johanns said to the applause of cattlemen. “But I'm not giving up. I'll continue pressing this issue through all channels available and at my disposal.”
Johanns said he understands the frustration cattlemen feel as a result of trade disputes. But he encouraged support for USDA's proposed rule to expand the range of cattle and beef imports from Canada. Comments are due March 12 on the proposal to allow imports of cattle up to eight years of age and beef from cattle of any age.
“I appreciate that there is a big debate here about this proposal, and there should be,” he said. “But I always say there's a ‘golden rule' of trade. We need to treat others the way we expect to be treated.”
But Johanns emphasized that trading partners must also show a stronger commitment to trade in good faith. USDA hopes to advance that cause by petitioning the International Organization for Animal Health (OIE) for a BSE risk classification that will help restore beef export markets. Having already submitted data from over 800,000 BSE tests over a three-year period, Johanns anticipates a preliminary finding on the appropriate risk level classification to be released in March, with a final vote by OIE members likely taking place in May. He predicted this proceeding could pave the way for establishment of greater export levels, if all parties involved are committed to abiding by the results.
“We are prepared to live by international guidelines,” he said. “We are prepared to ‘walk the walk.'”
Johanns said trade barriers are not only unfair and frustrating, but they also limit choices for overseas consumers.
“You know, we heard all these (negative) reports about what Japanese consumers would do with U.S. beef,” Johanns said. “You know what they did? They stood in line for it.”
In closing, Johanns praised NCBA for its leadership on animal identification issues. He encouraged voluntary participation in the livestock premises registration effort.
“I think it's the wrong approach to say, ‘it's the Washington way or the highway,'” he said. “Help us make a voluntary identification system a reality – a meaningful reality.”