Elisabeth Hagen is the nominee for the long vacant post of U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety.

“There is no more fundamental function of government than protecting consumers from harm, which is why food safety is one of USDA's top priorities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release Jan. 25.

Hagen is the USDA’s chief medical officer. Before that, she was a senior executive at the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is the responsible for the food safety of meat, poultry and egg products.

Though the position doesn’t directly affect fruit and vegetable safety regulations, Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said it was encouraging to see the administration’s focus on food safety.

The USDA post had been vacant since December 2008, and some food activists had been lobbying the Obama administration nominate food safety lawyer Bill Marler for the post.

“It is time to close ranks and support and help Dr. Hagen,” Marler said in an e-mail to food bloggers Jan.  25.