Rural quality of life is the latest esoteric subject getting a hearing out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Foresty, which also has had time to recommend that the complete Senate confirm four new Commodity Futures Trading Commissioners.

It’s not new that the business of agriculture takes precedence over the nation’s food safety. That was a concern almost 30 years ago when President Clinton signed the USDA reorganization act that included an Under Secretary for Food Safety on par with the foreign trade and marketing positions that drive policy in Washington D.C.

But the highest food safety job in the federal government has gone vacate more often than it has been filled, according to a previously published analysis by Food Safety News. And, the Senate Agriculture Committee has yet to hold a hearing on the new Under Secretary for Food Safety’s nomination, meaning the post is vacant again.

President Obama did not name anyone as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety for his last three years. And President Trump’s nominee, Mindy Brashears from Texas Tech University, had to wait 23 months for her confirmation. She held the post for just short of 10 months.

And now, President Biden’s pick as USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety is going on five months with no action by the Senate Agriculture committee.

Jose Emilio Esteban
Biden’s choice is Jose Emilio Esteban, chief scientist for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.  

In his current job, Esteban provides scientific advice to support agency policies, including microbiology, chemistry and pathology. 

It is his fourth position within FSIS, all within the Office of Public Health Science. Before his current assignment, he was Executive Associate for Laboratory Services, the Scientific Advisor for Laboratory Services and Research Coordination, and the Laboratory Director for the Western Laboratory.

 Before joining USDA, he worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, Staff Epidemiologist, and Assistant Director of the Food Safety Office.

Outside the U.S. federal government, Esteban is also the Chair of the Codex Alimentarius Commission Committee on Food Hygiene. This committee sets definitions for international food hygiene standards for international trade. He is also currently vice president of the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). 

Esteban is a Mexican native who first studied in his home country to become a veterinarian and then earned an MBA, a master’s degree in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of California-Davis.

Esteban’s status as a presidential appointment requiring Senate confirmation has not changed since the date it occurred:

  • Nov. 15, 2021, received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

The Senate Agriculture Committee continues to process various assistant and other Under Secretaries while Esteban cools his heels. As for rural quality of life, child, elder, and health care all play a role.

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