If the U.S. Senate can stay focused for long enough today, Jose Emilio Esteban will likely be confirmed as the nation’s sixth undersecretary for food safety. He’s been waiting for 340 days

With a Senate confirmation vote, Esteban will move up from being the chief scientist at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to leading the agency. The Under Secretary for Food Safety is a sub-cabinet position within the U.S. Department of Agriculture with responsibility for food safety programs and policies. The Under Secretary chairs the U.S. Codex Steering Committee, which provides guidance to the United States.

The Under Secretary’s office was vacated by Mindy Brashears, the Trump Administration’s appointee on Jan. 20, 2021. She returned to Texas Tech University as the Associate Vice President of Research.

The Biden Administration submitted Esteban’s name to the Senate on Nov. 15, 2021, and it was assigned to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. But Esteban did not get a hearing until Sept. 22 this year, and his nomination was not reported out of the committee favorably until Sept. 27.

Esteban’s nomination was then placed on the Senate Executive Calendar, No. 1169. He’s required to respond to requests to appear and testify before any duly constituted committee to the Senate.

As of the moment, the good news for Esteban is that he is on today’s Executive Calendar. The bad news is that there are more than 60 appointees requiring confirmation ahead of him. However, the Senate’s known for taking nominations out of order or even grouping diplomats or judges into a single vote.

By being placed on the Executive Calendar with a sequentially assigned calendar number, a nomination is considered ready for floor consideration.

The Under Secretary for Food Safety was created in 1994 by the Agriculture Reorganization Act. It was intended to elevate food safety within USDA and the federal government at large.

In addition to Brashears, four others have held the office: Dr. Elisabeth Hagen from August 2010-December 2013; Dr. Richard Allen Raymond July 2003-January 2009; Elsa A. Murano October 20001 -December 2004 and Catherine Woteki July 1997-January 2001.

Esteban has worked in several roles at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Since 2018, he has held the position of chief scientist at the FSIS. Esteban has worked with the agency since 2001.

“Dr. Esteban has a deep understanding of USDA’s commitment to protecting the health of the public by providing food safety,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack when Esteban was nominated.

Before joining the USDA, Esteban 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.

He serves as the chair of the Codex Alimentarius Commission Committee on Food Hygiene. This committee helps define food hygiene standards for international trade. Esteban also works as vice president of the International Association for Food Protection.

Dr. Esteban trained as a veterinarian in Mexico. He holds an MBA, a master’s degree in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of California-Davis.

His near year-long wait aside, Esteban is seen as an eventual shoo-in.

“Dr. Esteban is well respected and well qualified to lead the food safety mission at the Department,” said Julie Anna Potts president and chief executive officer of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). “A veterinarian and an epidemiologist with decades of experience at USDA, Esteban is uniquely qualified to ensure sound science drives food safety and public health decision-making.

“We urge a swift Senate confirmation to ensure Dr. Esteban can assume this critical role without further delay.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here)