RENO, NV – Clear and consistent communication on food safety is essential to beef producers and others in the food industry, new Sec. of Agriculture Ed Schafer told several thousand producers, feeders and others attending the 2008 Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show, Feb. 6-9 in Reno.

Schafer, making his first official appearance before a major U.S. commodity group since being confirmed to his post by the U.S. Senate, indicated that USDA and the Bush Administration were committed to making sure U.S. and world consumers receive safe and healthy beef.

He responded to an apparent animal cruelty incident recently at a California meat packing facility that made the headlines and caused several schools and other institutions to halt serving of beef from the facility. Schafer said USDA is committed to assuring consumers that incidents of animal cruelty won’t be tolerated.

He added that the Bush Administration is concerned about removing trade barriers against U.S. beef among some foreign countries, barriers that continue to hurt U.S. beef markets.

“This administration is firmly committed to free trade,” said Schafer, adding that American trade representatives believe that a change of leadership in South Korea should help re-open doors for U.S. beef in that vital market.

Schafer said he is hopeful House and Senate farm bill conference committee members can come together on legislation that the Administration can support. If changes are not made in farm bill proposals to raise taxes, it will likely be vetoed by President Bush, he said.

Changes in government payment programs are also needed, he said. “We don’t believe subsidy payments should be made to people who don’t need them,” he said, adding that with higher prices seen for feed grains, soybeans and other commodities, “it’s not the time to raise target prices and loan rates.”

A farm bill with major emphasis on conservation is favored by the Administration, he said. Schafer added that the renewable fuels initiative favored by the President and Congress should help promote the development of cellulosic sources of ethanol and other biofuel production.

“In 2009 we should see more non-feed sources for energy needs,” he said.

The renewable fuel program calls for production of 36 billion gallons of biofuel in the next 15 years. Schafer said that he expected some 21 billion gallons of that fuel to be produced by cellulosic sources.