Any hope that the U.S. Senate would confirm Jose Emilio Esteban as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety before the late summer break is gone.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry has not scheduled a nomination hearing for Esteban. President Biden nominated him for the nation’s top food safety job nine months ago, on Nov. 15, 2021.
The Senate won’t vote on Esteban’s confirmation until the Committee holds a nomination hearing and recommends his approval.
When the Senate returned from its last recess in early July, agriculture press reports said the Committee was “under pressure” to act on the Esteban nomination along with some others languishing in the Committee.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, reportedly blamed the long delay on the White House for not yet providing all the needed paperwork.
The Senate Agriculture Committee’s apparent priority over the summer is the receiving end of a gusher of tax money for rural America. The agriculture section gets $40 billion under the Inflation Reduction Act.
Meanwhile, the Esteban nomination is assigned to the Committee but is no closer to confirmation than it was nine months ago.
He waits at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
As FSIS chief scientist, Esteban provides scientific advice to support agency policies, including microbiology, chemistry and pathology.
It is his fourth position at 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 the USDA agency, 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 for 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 was trained as a veterinarian in Mexico and supplemented his training with an MBA, a master’s degree in preventive veterinary medicine, and a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of California-Davis.
The White House named Sandra Eskin on March 17 as Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. Deputy jobs do not require Senate confirmation and Eskin went to work shortly after being named to the No. 2 food safety job.
She announced on Aug. 1 that for first time salmonella may be considered an adulterant in some breaded chicken products.
Eskin was long known as the food safety project director for The Pew Charitable Trusts. In that role, Eskin was known for bringing diverse parties together to work on common solutions for food safety challenges. Eskin will head USDA’s Office of Food Safety until the Senate gets around to confirming Esteban.
The USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety is an office established by Congress in 1994 in a Reorganization Act, but it’s been kept vacant much of the time by both Democratic and Republican administrations. If he ever is confirmed, Esteban will be the sixth Under Secretary for Food Safety.
There are fewer than 150 days left until the current Congress adjourns. Nominations that are not confirmed by that deadline are dead in the water unless submitted to the next Congress.
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