David Lazarus, a senior advisor to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is moving to the White House to serve as advisor to President Obama on agriculture and rural affairs, a position on the Domestic Policy Council that has been vacant for 18 months.

Lazarus, who made the transition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday, will still be paid by the agency while on detail.

Widely considered Vilsack’s right hand man on food safety and other key food and agriculture issues, Lazarus may help the raise the profile of food safety issues at the White House.

Lazarus, formerly an agriculture legislative aide to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), helped write the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), of which Durbin is the lead sponsor.  The bill, which is a key component of the President’s Food Safety Working Group recommendations, has been stalled in the Senate for months.

“In his role as special assistant and senior advisor, Lazarus has been the food safety go-to guy in the ‘office of the secretary’ …and has been the lead Vilsack staffer on Obama’s interagency Food Safety Working Group,” said Steve Kopperud, executive vice president at Policy Directions and founder of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, who added that Lazarus has “tough shoes to fill” as Obama’s first appointee to the position.

“Lazarus will do just fine,” said Kopperud. “As the Farm Bill discussions ramp up, he’s going to be a very popular guy, particularly if this President keeps talking about local marketing networks and broadband access rather than keeping farmers solvent.”

“We have had the pleasure of working with David both in his capacity as a Hill staffer and as a member of Secretary Vilsack’s staff,” said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union in an email to Food Safety News.  “He is a incredibly talented, and we look forward to working with him on food safety issues in his new position.”