U.S Halts Orange Juice Imports Over Fungicide Fears

The United States is halting orange juice imports over fears that the products could be contaminated with an unapproved fungicide. This, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would test orange juice for the fungicide, carbendazim, that was detected in low levels in some juice.

The agency said, according to an Associated Press (AP) report, that it wasn’t worried about the juice’s safety, but did plan to ensure contamination wasn’t the culprit. Now, said Fox News, the FDA will release a batch of orange juice imported from Canada—the first juice to enter the U.S. since testing for the illegal fungicide began.

As we wrote previously, in an FDA letter to the juice industry, an unidentified juice company contacted the agency last month to advise that it detected low levels of carbendazim in its own and a competitors’ juice, said the AP. An FDA spokeswoman said the company’s testing detected carbendazim levels of up to 35 parts per billion (ppb), which is below the European Union’s (EU) top residue level of 200 ppb. The U.S. never created a maximum residue level for the fungicide in oranges, said the AP; however the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 80 ppb to be a health risk.

It has just been revealed that the Coca-Cola company made a report to the FDA after after it found some Brazilian growers had sprayed the fungicide on their orange trees. According to the Associated Press, Coca-Cola did not say which products it tested contained the fungicide. Its own orange juice products include Simply Orange and Minute Maid.

Fungicides control fungi or fungal spores in agriculture, explained the AP. Carbendazim is not approved for use on U.S. citrus, but is used in Brazil, which exports orange juice to the U.S. The Baltimore Sun previously noted that Brazil exports about one-tenth of all U.S. orange juice.

Nega Beru, an FDA official, in a letter to the Juice Products Association, said the agency would test orange juice shipments at the border, detaining any with traces of carbendazim, said the AP. Because carbendazim is not approved for U.S. use, any level is illegal.

Fox News reported that initial tests revealed that three of the Canadian shipments did not have any detectable levels of the fungicide, according to the FDA. Once testing is complete, the shipments will be released to the U.S., said Fox News noting that Canada accounts for less than one percent of U.S. imports.

Test results could be released by tomorrow, which will help minimize the scare that sent orange juice futures temporarily soaring, threatening an industry reliant on Brazilian imports, wrote Fox News. “We’ve got 30 more samples pending, and those come from Canada, Mexico, and Brazil,” said FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey, who explained that testing takes five to ten business days to complete. “I’m not sure what is where in the pipeline,” DeLancey added, wrote Fox News. FDA began testing orange juice on January 4th.

According to Cirrus BR spokesman, Christian Lohbauer, Brazil has been using the fungicide for over two decades to fight against blossom blight and black spot, an orange tree mold. Citrus BR is a group representing Brazil’s four key orange juice producers. “Any shipment (of orange juice) will test positive … I don’t know what is the level that they will decide is the maximum level,” he said, wrote the Baltimore Sun. “Our interest now is that juice keeps entering the United States,” Lohbauer added.

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