The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just might have an Under Secretary for Food Safety this grilling season.

The Senate Agriculture Committee yesterday approved the nomination of Dr. Elisabeth Hagen to lead the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), five months after President Obama announced the nomination, and 21 months after the last under secretary left the job in 2008.

hagenconfirmation.jpgThe lingering vacancy has drawn considerable criticism in the food policy community, causing many to openly suggest FSIS lacks leadership and direction at a time when the Obama Administration is stressing food safety system reform.

The voice vote to approve Hagen’s nomination occurred yesterday at the beginning of an Ag committee hearing on the 2012 farm bill. (The committee also approved Catherine Woteki as the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics and Sara L. Faivre-Davis, Lowell Junkins and Myles Watts to the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation Board of Directors.)

“Maintaining the safety of our commercial food supply is one of the most important missions of USDA. Keeping the public’s faith in the integrity of our food systems will require increased coordination with all relevant agencies and I am pleased to know Dr. Hagen shares my commitment to keeping our nation’s food supply safe,” said Ag Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), in a statement yesterday.
Hagen currently serves as the USDA’s Chief Medical Officer. “If confirmed, I look forward to using this experience to build strong, science-based, public health policy,” she told the Ag committee during her confirmation hearing in May.

“My background and experience in medicine, public health, and food safety has prepared me to lead an agency responsible for the safety of a large portion of the food supply,” she said.

Hagen’s nomination now moves to the full Senate for consideration. It’s likely she and other pending, noncontroversial nominations will be approved by the upper chamber during the next work period, after the Fourth of July recess.

Pictured: Elisabeth Hagen (right) and Catherine Woteki (left) swear in before the Ag Committee in May as Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) looks on. Photo by Helena Bottemiller.