The US Juice Products Association (JPA) has moved to allay consumer concerns that orange juice produced in the country is unsafe, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it was blocking some Brazilian imports found to contain the substance.
The FDA made this move after a US juice producer notified it on December 28 of the fact that it had detected low levels of the fungicide in imported orange juice concentrate from Brazil – used in both this firm and its competitors products – albeit in the low parts per billion range.
The JPA represents the US juice industry (from packagers to extractors and processors), and it said in a statement released last night: “According to the information provided by the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a preliminary risk assessment and has determined that the low levels found do not raise safety concerns.”
As a precautionary measure, the JPA said that the FDA has informed juice producers it would test all incoming shipments of orange juice for carbendazim, regardless of country of origin, until further notice.
Orange juice showing carbendizem levels equal to or higher than 10 parts per billion, a baseline FDA level of quantification, would be denied entry into the U.S, the JPA said.
It added: “The JPA has discussed the matter with the FDA and offered its full cooperation to assure the continued safety and quality of juice products.”
Not approved as fungicide
In a letter published by the FDA online on Tuesday, to JPA executive director Carol Freysinger, the administration noted that fungicides were chemical compounds or biological organisms used to kill or inhibit fungi or fungal spores that can cause serious damage to agriculture.
Although Carbendazim was approved for use in various crops, including citrus fruits, in many countries, the FDA said the EPA had not approved carbendazim for use as a fungicide on US oranges (it is used elsewhere to tackle orange tree mould black spot).
Nor has it established a tolerance or an exemption from the need for a tolerance for carbendazim in orange juice in the US.
Thus, the FDA reminded the JPA that carbendazim in orange juice was an unlawful pesticide chemical residue under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
However, the FDA said it did not intend to remove domestic commerce orange juice containing the reported low levels of carbendazim, but would conduct its own tests on orange juice to ensure it did not pose a public health risk.
Sampling import shipments
The administration said it was also sampling import shipments of orange juice and would deny entry to shipments testing positive for carbendazim.
“We request that you inform us of the juice industry’s plans for ensuring that suppliers in Brazil (or elsewhere) refrain from using this pesticide in a manner that results in illegal residues in orange juice products intended for the United States,” the FDA wrote to Freysinger.
A spokesman for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) told BeverageDaily.com that carbendazim was only allowed on cereals, rape seed, sugar and fodder beet and maize grown within the EU.
He said: “The Maximum Residue Level (MRL) on a number of crops such as oranges was reduced from 0.5 mg/kg to 0.2 mg/kg following a reasoned opinion from EFSA in 2009.”
“Restrictions on imports, etc., are outside EFSA’s remit, and any action along those lines is up to risk managers such as an individual Member State or the European Commission (EC),” he added.
A spokesman for the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) said: “Carbendazim has approved uses in the EU and certain levels of residues are permitted in oranges. On the information available to us at this time, the levels of carbendazim reported as being detected in orange juice imported into the USA from Brazil would not be a concern.”
Both the Coca-Cola Company (Minute Maid) and PepsiCo (Tropicana) failed to respond to requests for comment on whether the Brazilian concentrate issue could affect their brands.