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Senate accepts Esteban's nomination as USDA's undersecretary for food safety

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Hopes of the U.S. Senate appointing Jose Emilio Esteban as Undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA before the end of the summer vacation have vanished.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry has not scheduled a nomination hearing for Esteban. President Biden named him the nation’s premier food safety job on November 15, 2021, nine months ago.

The Senate will not vote on Esteban’s confirmation until the committee holds a nomination hearing and recommends his confirmation.

When the Senate returned from its final recess in early July, Agricultural News reported that the committee, along with several others afflicted on the committee, were “putting pressure on them to act on Esteban’s nomination.” I have received it.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reportedly blamed the lengthy delay on the White House for not yet providing all the necessary paperwork.

During the summer, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s obvious priority is to get a large amount of tax money into rural America. The agricultural section will receive $40 billion under the Inflation Reduction Act.

Meanwhile, Esteban’s nomination has been assigned to the committee, but is no closer to approval than it was nine months ago.

He’s waiting at the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

As FSIS Chief Scientist, Esteban provides scientific advice to support agency policy in microbiology, chemistry, pathology, and more.

This is his fourth position with FSIS, all within the Office of Public Health Sciences. Prior to his current assignment, he served as Executive of Laboratory Services, where he was Associate, Scientific Advisor for Laboratory Services and Research Coordination, and Director of the Laboratory for Western Research.

Prior to joining the USDA agency, he worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an Epidemiological Information Service Officer, Staff Epidemiologist, and Assistant Director of the Food Safety Administration.

Outside the US federal government, Esteban also chairs the Codex Alimentarius Commission on Food Safety. This committee sets the definition of international food hygiene standards for international trade. He is also currently Vice President of the International Food Protection Association (IAFP).

Esteban trained as a veterinarian in Mexico and supplemented his training with an MBA, a Master’s degree in preventive veterinary medicine, and a Ph.D. She holds a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of California, Davis.

The White House appointed Sandra Eskin as Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety on March 17. The deputy job does not require Senate approval, and Eskin took the job shortly after being named to the second food safety job.

She announced on August 1 that for the first time salmonella could be considered a contaminant in breaded chicken products.

Eskin was long known as the Food Safety Project Director for The Pew Charitable Trust. In that role, Eskin was known for bringing diverse stakeholders together to work on common solutions to food safety challenges. Eskin will head the USDA’s Food Safety Administration until the Senate approves Esteban.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary for Food Safety is an office created by Congress in the Reorganization Act in 1994, but has often been left vacant by both Democratic and Republican administrations. If he is confirmed, Esteban will become the sixth Undersecretary for Food Safety.

There are less than 150 days left until the current legislative session ends. Nominations not confirmed by that deadline are doomed unless submitted to the next Congress.

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