If the US Senate can stay focused long enough today, José Emilio Esteban is likely to be confirmed as the nation’s sixth deputy secretary for food safety. He has been waiting for 340 days.
With a confirmation vote from the Senate, Esteban will go from being the chief scientist of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to directing the agency. The Deputy Secretary for Food Safety is a sub-cabinet position within the US Department of Agriculture with responsibility for food safety programs and policies. The Assistant Secretary chairs the US Codex Steering Committee, which provides guidance to the United States.
Mindy Brashears, the Trump Administration appointee, vacated the office of deputy secretary on January 20, 2021. She returned to Texas Tech University as associate vice president for research.
The Biden Administration submitted Esteban’s name to the Senate on November 15, 2021 and he was assigned to the Senate Agriculture Committee. But Esteban did not get a hearing until September 22 of this year, and his nomination was not favorably reported by the committee until September 27.
Esteban’s nomination was then placed on the Senate Executive Calendar, No. 1169. He is required to respond to requests to appear and testify before any duly constituted Senate committee.
For now, 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 who require confirmation before he does. However, the Senate is notorious for taking nominations out of order or even lumping diplomats or judges together in one vote.
By being placed on the Executive Calendar with a sequentially assigned calendar number, a nomination is considered ready for consideration at the floor.
The Undersecretariat for Food Security was created in 1994 by the Agricultural Reorganization Law. It was intended to elevate food safety within the USDA and the federal government in general.
In addition to Brashears, four others have held the position: Dr. Elisabeth Hagen from August 2010 to December 2013; dr Richard Allen Raymond Jul 2003-Jan 2009; Elsa A. Murano October 20001 – December 2004 and Catherine Woteki July 1997 – January 2001.
Esteban has worked in various positions with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Since 2018, he has held the position of Chief Scientist at FSIS. Esteban has worked with the agency since 2001.
“Dr. Esteban has a keen understanding of USDA’s commitment to protecting the public’s health by providing food safety,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said when Esteban was nominated.
Prior to joining USDA, Esteban worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, Staff Epidemiologist, and Deputy Director of the Office of Food Safety.
He serves as chair of the Food Hygiene Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. This committee helps define food hygiene standards for international trade. Esteban also serves as Vice President of the International Association for Food Protection.
dr Esteban trained as a veterinarian in Mexico. He has an MBA, a master’s degree in Preventive Veterinary Medicine and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of California-Davis.
His nearly year-long wait aside, Esteban is seen as an eventual winner.
“Dr. Esteban is highly respected and well qualified to lead the department’s food safety mission,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). “Esteban, veterinarian and An epidemiologist with decades of USDA experience, he is uniquely qualified to ensure sound science drives decision-making on food safety and public health.
“We urge a swift Senate confirmation to ensure that Dr. Esteban can assume this critical role without further delay.”
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