E.J. Schultz of the Frezno Bee Capitol Bureau wrote today: “Food-safety bills introduced”

California lettuce and spinach growers would pay license fees to fund a state crop inspection program under a package of food safety bills introduced Thursday by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter.

The long-anticipated legislation is aimed at reducing E. coli outbreaks, which in the past year have sickened 280 people and killed four. The three-bill package greatly increases government oversight of an industry that has largely been self-regulated. Irrigation water would be tested every two weeks, buffer zones would separate dairies from farms and growers could not use creek water for irrigation or raw manure for fertilizer. Violators would face fines or even jail time.

“I believe it’s time for state government to assume its responsibility to protect the people of the state of California by ensuring that produce grown in this state is done so with the best agricultural practices and the most reliable testing standards available,” Florez said.

Growers, who are finalizing their own self-regulated inspection program, are expected to lobby against Florez’ proposal.