The Food and Drug Administration has stopped shipments of imported orange juice to test for the presence of a banned fungicide, the agency said.
In a notification to the Juice Products Association, Nega Beru – an FDA food safety director – said the agency action was prompted by reports that the chemical, carbendazim, was found in trace amounts last month in products imported from Brazil.
The Coca Cola Co., which owns the Minute Maid brand, said it notified the FDA that some Brazilian growers had sprayed their trees with the chemical. The fungicide has been linked in some studies to higher risk of liver tumors in animals.
“The (FDA) is issuing this letter to alert the orange juice processing industry to the agency’s position with respect to recent reports of the finding of the fungicide carbendazim in orange juice,” Beru said, adding that the agency will “destroy or ban products containing even low levels” of the fungicide.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not approved carbendazim for use as a fungicide on oranges or set a safe standard for its use in the U.S., the FDA said.
“This is an industry issue that affects every company that produces products in the U.S. using orange juice from Brazil,” said Coca-Cola in a statement.
On Dec. 28, the company reported to the FDA that it had detected low levels of carbendazim in unnamed competitors’ products, and in certain orange juice concentrate that is not on the market. Industry reports indicate that carbendazim is present in orange juice products from the 2011 crop from Brazil, where the fungicide is used legally under Brazilian law to combat mold that grows on orange trees.
The EPA has conducted a preliminary risk assessment based on the recent reports and concluded that consumption of orange juice with carbendazim at the low levels that have been reported does not raise safety concerns.
FDA said it does not intend to take action to remove from domestic commercial orange juice containing the low levels of carbendazim, but is conducting its own testing. If the agency identifies that orange juice is a public health risk, it will “alert the public and take the necessary action to ensure that the product is removed from the market,” Beru said.
Brazil produces about 15 percent of the orange juice consumed in the U.S., according industry reports.