It took at least two months longer than it should have, but the Senate has finally confirmed, by voice vote, Dr. Jose Emilio Esteban as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety.

Esteban was confirmed on the Senate last day of business before the 177th Congress expires.

The action drew immediate praise from CEO Ted McKinney at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). He siaid:

“Dr. Esteban is a remarkable scientist, and perhaps even more important, he is an exceptional communicator when it comes to helping others understand the science behind our food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture needs knowledgeable and experienced leaders at the helm like Dr. Esteban to navigate our food system’s current challenges and implement bipartisan solutions. We thank the U.S. Senate for confirming Dr. Esteban and for seeing the strengths he brings to the agriculture and food industry.”

NASDA also authored a letter of support for Dr. Esteban prior to his confirmation.

Esteban takes over the nation’s highest food safety position after serving as chief science officer for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

President Biden nominated Esteban as the nation’s sixth Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA on Nov. 15, 2021. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry was assigned to review the nomination, but it did not give Esteban a hearing until Sept. 27, 2022,

Esteban’s nomination was reported favourably out of the Committee on Sept. 27, 2022. It was then placed on the Senate Executive Calendar, meaning it was ready for a vote by the full Senate on any day since then. The Senate did not take it up until late Dec. 22.

The office was vacant while waiting for President Biden’s selection for the Senate to act.

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

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.

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