FDA Halts Orange Juice Imports To Test for Pesticide

US regulators have halted shipments of imported orange juice from all countries, and plans to destroy or ban products if tests find even low levels from a prohibited fungicide. Initial test results are due this week.

The fungicide, linked in studies to increased risk of liver tumors in animals, was found in low levels last month in orange juice products from Brazil, which produces about 41 percent of US imports, according to census data. While the chemical, carpendazim, is used in crops in many countries, it isn't approved to be used in the US on oranges.

The Food and Drug Administration also is screening juice that's already for sale in the US market. That's because products often contain a mixture of imported and domestic juice, said Siobhan DeLancey, an agency spokeswoman. Americans consumed 1.2 million gallons from the 2009-2010 growing season, US Department of Agriculture data shows.

If the chemical is found, the agency will inform the public and "take the necessary action to ensure that the product is removed from the market," she said in an e-mail.

The agency hasn't previously tested for the chemical because it wasn't a problem, DeLancey said. The unnamed company that reported finding the chemical has been tracking the compound for several years, she said.

Concerns about the pesticide started Dec. 28 when the FDA learned that an unnamed juice company had detected low levels in its own and rival products, according to letter from the agency to the Juice Products Association, a Washington trade group. The fungicide was found in products from Brazil's 2011 crop.

"Brazilian orange juice is safe and always has been," said Dan Schafer, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based Coca Cola Co., which owns the Minute Maid brand, in an e-mail. "Second, this is an issue that impacts every company that produces products in the US containing orange juice from Brazil."

Orange juice futures rose the most in five years after the FDA investigation was announced, combined with freezing weather that's damaged citrus crops in Florida.

The "test and hold" policy extends to all juice imports, not only those from Brazil and the FDA doesn't believe levels reported so far pose a public health risk, Delancey said,

The agency expects initial testing to be complete by the end of the week, DeLancey said. Imported juice that tests at concentrations of 10 parts per billion or higher will be refused or destroyed, DeLancey said.

For products on the market, the benchmark is below 80 parts per billion because the Environmental Protection Agency's risk assessment says they don't have safety concerns at that level, said Dale Kemery, a spokesman for the agency. This level is 1,000 to 3,000 times lower that the levels that would indicate a health concern, he said in an e-mail.

"Based on monitoring data provided to EPA by FDA, the EPA has no reason to expect that residues of carbenzadim in oranges grown in Brazil would ever approach levels that would raise safety concerns," Kemery wrote.

Carpendazim is used in plant disease control and Drinking orange juice with the levels of carbendazim reported "does not raise safety concerns," according to the FDA letter to the industry trade group.


Source: Bloomberg News