Orange juice suppliers in the United States are breathing easier this week after the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) released results of EPA tests conducted on both foreign and domestic orange juice for unsafe levels of a fungicide, carbendazim, which is currently not approved for use on oranges in the United States.
More aggressive testing was initiated after some shipments of orange juice from Brazil tested positive for the fungicide in late January. Carbendazim has been cleared to be used on crops in most parts of the world. However, in the United States, the EPA has not approved its use on oranges. The fungicide is not banned in Brazil and is legal under their laws. The fungicide there is used to control a fungus known as black rot which can destroy some citrus products.
According to a statement released Friday, FDA officials say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that carbendazim in small amounts does not pose a health risk to those who have consumed the orange juice, and the FDA does not plan on taking any drastic measures to rid stores of the juice. However, the FDA will soon be carrying out its own tests, and if it is shown that there is any risk, immediate action will be taken to protect the health of the public.
In the United States, carbendazim, was federally approved for use on oranges as recently as 2009 and is considered safe for dozens of other crops, including apricots, bananas, cherries, and grapes. The EPA also approved and allows small amounts of the fungicide in apple juice.
After shipments from Brazil tested positive for the fungicide last month, regulators halted orange-juice imports and held them for testing because approved use in oranges had expired and no one had sought re-approval for use in U.S. oranges.
Texas AgriLife Extension Service Specialist Dr. Juan Anciso in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, an area rich in orange production, said last week that trace amounts of the fungicide still continue to be found in many products, including oranges, largely because the fungicide has spread to food processing facilities.
“I don’t know if we will ever see a day when super-trace amounts are not detected in imported fruits, so I am not surprised that the FDA is willing to come to terms with it. It was just a matter of establishing acceptable tolerance levels,” he said.
The FDA has indicated they are ready to accept EPA’s acceptable levels of the fungicide—80 parts per billion—which do not pose a threat to public safety.
Texas Citrus Mutual President Ray Prewett last week said the temporary move to hold shipments of orange juice products in January would have little or no impact on the Texas citrus industry as most oranges produced in the state are sold as fresh fruit.
After FDA announced they were holding foreign shipments of orange juice for testing last month, market prices for juice were on a rollercoaster ride up and down as the industry awaited results from the first run of EPA tests.Orange juice for March delivery fell 2.55 cents, or 1.3 percent, to settle at $2.0145 a pound as of Friday. But a ban on foreign juice forced futures to an all-time high of $2.2695 a pound on Jan. 23.
According to Anciso, carbendazim is also used in some processing plants to eliminate contaminants in processing equipment, “and even trace amounts on a conveyor belt, for example, could give a false positive test on shipments.”