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Tests Reveal Low Levels of Fungicide in Some Imported OJ Products

(Jan. 30, 2012) -- The FDA is continuing to assure consumers that orange juice is safe to drink, despite possible contamination by carbendazim, a fungicide used by growers in some foreign countries but which is illegal for use on citrus fruits in the United States.

“FDA is confident that orange juice in the United States may be consumed without concerns,” the federal agency said in a news release issued Friday.

That statement was part of the third weekly update the FDA has issued since Jan. 9, when the agency alerted the orange juice processing industry about reports that carbendazim had been detected in OJ products imported from Brazil.

In that country, growers legally use the fungicide to fight black spot, a mold that grows on orange trees. Other major importing countries, such as Mexico, also allow carbendazim.

Ongoing Tests

On Jan. 4, the FDA began testing all shipments of OJ products before they were allowed entry into the U.S. So far, they have quarantined 80 shipments of orange juice or orange juice concentrate imports in order to test for contamination.

While some samples still await a verdict, the agency has announced that 29 of the samples tested negative, or fungicide free. However, 11 of the shipments tested positive. That means the samples contained 10 or more parts per billion of carbendazim. Products above the 10 ppb threshold are not allowed to enter this country.

Six of the shipments were from Canada; the other five were from Brazil, one of the top two importers of orange juice concentrate. However, according to the FDA’s web site, three-quarters of the orange juice consumed in this country is made from domestically grown oranges.

Low Levels of Fungicide Do Not Threaten Safety

Carbendazim, which was banned for use on citrus fruits in the U.S. in 2009, has been associated with liver toxicity, as well as eye and brain deformities. It is also a possible carcinogen.

The FDA has stated that it will not be issuing a recall of any orange juice products currently on store shelves, because the levels of carbendazim that it has thus far found do not raise safety concerns.

The EPA, which conducted a risk assessment in response to the FDA investigation, agrees.

“There is no public health concern from drinking orange juice containing carbendazim at reported levels,” the EPA states on its web site.

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