After just three hours of questions, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved President Bush’s selection of Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns for the next Secretary of Agriculture.

Johanns fielded questions on BSE, international trade, food security concerns and dairy policy issues. In his answers, he promised to work aggressively to open foreign markets for U.S. farmers, particularly those that have banned U.S. beef due to concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Several senators told Johanns his first task should be to get Japan to reopen its market to U.S. beef. At the same time, lawmakers encouraged Johanns to keep the U.S. market closed to live cattle from Canada, where a cow again tested positive for BSE. Johann made no comment on opening the border to Canadian beef.

The full Senate is expected to approve Johanns as the nation’s 28th agriculture secretary on or after January 20, the day President Bush is sworn in for his second term.

Pork Alert, IDFA

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