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Johanns Completes First Day at USDA

New secretary of agriculture says resuming trade with Japan remains his No. 1 priority.

Newly confirmed Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns experienced his first day of his "dream come true" as he started his position on Monday. In his first briefing with news media he reiterated his stance on key issues, including his No. 1 priority of resuming beef trade with Japan.

Johanns offered a couple of thoughts on the entire beef trade issue. "I could not be stronger in my belief that this has to be, really, my top priority. Many things on the priority list, but this really rises to the top," he says.

He says the cattle industry and USDA are anxious to cement the deal with Japan that has worked on technical aspects for over a year. "We've answered the scientific questions, the technical questions, and all of those things. And I really believe that the day has arrived for trade to resume between our two countries on beef," he says. Johanns made it clear that he doesn't want the transfer of secretaries to slow down the process of reopening the borders.

In his first hours on the job Johanns says he had a series of meetings on the BSE border situation to get up to speed on everything available at the USDA relative to the Canadian rule. "I just fully expect to be immersed in this whole area for the days ahead," he says.

He also mentioned R-CALF's intention to file a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent the minimal risk rule from taking effect on March 7. "Our lawyers are working with their lawyers on a joint scheduling order for this motion," he says. "Our objective is to get the motion briefed and argued on a mutually acceptable timetable so the judge will have the benefit of hearing everyone's point of view before reaching his decision."

Johanns also expressed his support for the role conservation programs play in farm policy. He says the marriage between environmental, hunting and ag groups on conservation issues speaks well for the support of conservation programs. But future programs have to be done in a way that meets the budget expectations facing the government, he says. "The President has spoken in support of them, and so I'll do whatever I can within the budget limitations I have to continue to move that agenda forward."

No decisions have been made on key subcabinet positions, Johanns says. He expects to make those decisions in the next several weeks. Some reports indicate he will keep many of former Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman's top staffers including her chief of staff and undersecretary for farm and foreign affairs.

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