USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) visited the Lenexa, Kan., offices of Vance Publishing (parent company of Pork) on Tuesday to meet with editors of the company’s 15 agricultural publications.

Both Johanns and Roberts both support the Central America Free Trade Agreement and other trade efforts. They believe agriculture and the American economy have a tremendous stake in trade, and that addressing CAFTA and other trade issues will help farmers and ranchers “level the playing field.”  

Today, most agricultural imports entering the United States from Central American countries enter the duty free. However, U.S. products face duties of 20 percent and much higher.

“I see an enormous advantage for agriculture in CAFTA,” Johanns said. He expects agricultural trade exports will reach $59 billion this year, making 2005 the third highest export-sales year in history. American farmers and ranchers need “trade for agriculture to be successful financially, and that’s not going to lessen any,” he noted.

In other comments, Johanns said that America’s food and fiber system contributes $1.24 trillion dollars (more than 12 percent) to our gross domestic product.

He also characterized public response to USDA’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines—also known as the food pyramids– as "nothing short of remarkable." He said there were 100 million visits to USDA’s Web site within the first 48 hours of the guidelines’ release. While there have been and will be critics to the guidelines, Johanns said, the ultimate gauge of its success is if we end up with a healthier Americans.

Sen. Roberts asked about the banning packer livestock ownership. He referred to the re-surfacing of legislation in the Senate, and called the proposed legislation a “very populist” idea but “not a reasonable answer.” He also suggested that many proposed legislative efforts to aid small farmers often have the opposite effect.

Both Johanns and Roberts talked about agroterrorism issues, as well as the work underway to address food-security needs. “Six of the 19 Sept. 11 terrorists had agricultural training,” noted Roberts. “Attacking ag would be easy to do.”

He discussed the important role of first-responders—veterinarians, local and state animal-health officials– in the event of an animal disease issue. “Are we where were need to be…no; are we farther down the road than we were…yes,” Roberts said.

Secretary Johanns was in the Kansas City area to address the International Symposium on Agroterrorism presented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Heart of America Joint Terrorism Task Force Executive Board. Johanns and Roberts fielded questions from Vance editors for more than an hour.