Nominee to Top USDA Post Faces Tough Policy Issues

EDWARD MADIGAN, the former Illinois congressman whom President Bush picked to be agriculture secretary, faces many major issues this year, including concern about food safety and chemical residues in food. The appointment of Representative Madigan to succeed Clayton Yeutter was quickly hailed by farm groups, some consumer groups, and by members of Congress who will vote on his confirmation. Mr. Yeutter agreed three weeks ago to head the Republican National Committee.

Along with serving as GOP leader on the House Agriculture Committee for the past eight years, Madigan holds senior positions on the Energy and Commerce Committee. He has played key roles on health-care and acid-rain legislation, the decision to sell Conrail, and the recently passed clean-air law.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farm organization, called Madigan an excellent choice.

Senate Republican Leader Robert Dole of Kansas, who had backed another candidate, said Madigan ``knows the issues, knows the players and he knows what farmers need.''

During the drafting of the 1990 farm bill, Madigan argued for policies to reduce government farm subsidies and provide more opportunity for farmers to earn a profit in the marketplace.

However, in a recent interview, he hedged when asked if he would pursue similar policies if he was appointed. ``A lot of that depends on what happens in Geneva,'' he said, referring to the now-stalled world trade-reform talks. The four-year round of negotiations collapsed last month when Europe refused to consider significant cuts in its use of export subsidies and lavish spending to subsidize farmers.

Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont said his panel would move quickly on the nomination.

Environmentalists differed on the outlook for their issues under Madigan. Rick Hind of U.S. PIRG called Madigan ``a yes-man to the chemical industry'' and a foe of the family farmer because of opposition to proposals to give farmers higher prices for their goods in exchange for strict limits on what they produce.

``I'm hopeful,'' said Ken Cook, who coordinated efforts of several environmental groups to affect the 1990 farm law. ``It's definitely going to be better on environmental issues than Secretary Yeutter.''

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