The FDA has begun clearing shipments of imported orange juice after the beverages have tested free of a fungicide banned in this country, but many more are being held at the border. The agency said it could take weeks before testing is complete and the juice is allowed into the U.S.
The fungicide, carbendazim, is not considered a health risk at low concentrations, but it’s illegal for use on crops in the U.S. The FDA instituted a “test and hold” policy on all orange juice imports in early January after Coca-Cola—which makes Minute Maid, Simply Orange, and Odwalla—alerted the agency that it had detected low levels of carbendazim in its own juices and in samples from competitors.
The headlines and product holds have caused wild fluctuations in the volatile juice futures market, but one food safety expert says orange juice represents just the tip of the iceberg.
“As we continue to import more and more of our food—and we’re importing at least 20% now—we will see more and more of this sort of thing,” said Michael Doyle, PhD, Regents Professor of Food Microbiology and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “For example, shrimp and tilapia from southeast Asia are produced using methods that are not acceptable by U.S. standards. They use ciprofloxacin and related antibiotics; meanwhile, the FDA has just come out with a ban on this in agricultural production.”
Dr. Doyle predicted that a dilemma will soon face U.S. food markets. “Do we accept contaminated food because there’s just not enough of it around, or are we going to change standards?” Brazil, the source of the contaminated juice, is the largest exporter of orange juice in the world. “Are we going to cut off Brazil when the Florida orange juice industry is on the ropes because of the diseases they’re dealing with? With time, as we become more and more dependent on other countries with food, our dilemma will be how long we can reject practices that we have problems with and still have affordable food.”