Agriculture inspections of imported produce will be beefed up under a newly introduced Senate bill supported by Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Senate bill 1673 — called the Safeguarding American Agriculture Act of 2011 — was introduced in October by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii,

“The legislation Senator Akaka and I have introduced will improve the safety of American agriculture by strengthening inspections at our borders and ports of entry,” Feinstein said in a news release.

She said California growers have encountered Asian citrus psyllid, European grapevine moth and other pests which have damaged orange groves and vineyards.

“Agriculture inspectors at our borders must have the tools, resources and access they need to defend our agricultural industry from the potentially catastrophic losses associated when these invasive pests and diseases enter our country.”

Feinstein said the legislation would boost agriculture’s mission within U.S. Customs and Border Protection and improve agricultural inspection operations at ports of entry. The bill would establish an Office of Agriculture Inspection within CBP. The legislation would also require CBP to create a career track for agriculture specialists and authorize an interagency rotation program between staff at CBP and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Chris Schlect, president of the of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said Sen. Feinstein has been supportive of agriculture’s need to prevent introduction of invasive pests.

“In general, we are very supportive of Sen. Feinstein’s efforts in this area.”

Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C., representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said Feinstein has been a champion of bolstering agricultural inspections since inspectors were taken from the USDA with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.