Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner spoke to reporters Monday and assured them he is looking forward to accepting the extended leadership role at USDA. He praised former secretary Mike Johanns, discussed their working relationship and said he expects a seamless transition.
There are many issues on Conner's plate as the new leader of USDA, but none bigger than the farm bill. Conner was very involved in getting the Farm Bill through the House and says he'll press the Senate to begin mark-up, possibly as early as next week.
Although the farm bill is the issue on everyone's mind right now, there are several others that USDA is dealing with. Food safety is a critical topic, especially food import safety.
"We will be hosting a public comment session here at the department next week on Oct. 1," Conner said. The session will be held in conjunction with the Import Safety Group.
Trade is also an issue that will be occupying a lot of the new acting secretary's time. Four free trade agreements with Peru, Panama, South Korea and Columbia are pending Congressional approval.
Also the Doha Round of World Trade Organization global trade talks are continuing. Conner said a report from U.S. officials in Geneva Monday morning was optimistic.
"There is an opportunity for a deal to be reached," Conner says. "We are prepared to be flexible, but other countries must be also."