Home-grown OJ soaring in popularity after Brazilian contamination

Strange as it sound, a bit of corporate honesty from the U.S.’s two largest sellers of orange juice has done wonders for some mom and pop–size OJ bottlers in Florida.

Florida Department of Agriculture said Friday that at least five small orange juice bottlers or packers have modified the labels on their bottles so they now boldly proclaim “made only from Florida oranges” or “No Imported Juices.”

Their sales are reportedly soaring.

The instant desirability of domestic orange juice was triggered by a report to the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 28 by Coca-cola Co, which markets Minute-Maid, Simply Orange and Odwalla brands. The company told the FDA that it had found the fungus-killing chemical carbendazim during routine testing of OJ it had imported from Brazil.

PepsiCo Inc, which has a large chunk of the market with its Tropicana, also found fungicide in its subsequent testing. Both companies insist the levels of the banned substance are “at trace levels” and pose no risk to consumers.

Carbendazim, also called methyl 2-benzimidazoyl carbamate or MBC, is used to prevent black spots in citrus. It is illegal in oranges in the U.S., but is widely used in Brazil which is this country’s largest foreign supplier of OJ.

“Carbendazim in orange juice is unlawful pesticide chemical residue under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act,” the FDA reminded the juice trade association by letter.

The FDA says it has set up an extensive intercept program at ports to “identify, sample and hold” all orange juice coming in from Brazil. The juice will be restricted from distribution unless or until a “clean bill of health” is issued after the testing.

Any imported shipments containing carbendazim at 10 ppb or greater will be refused entry into the U.S. and must be destroyed or returned to the exporter, FDA says.

Although the Brazilian growing season it nearing its end, Florida juice officials say FDA’s testing of the imported juice and juice products may continue for months.

It’s difficult for consumers to know where the juice they’re giving to their kids actually comes from.

If you look at the very fine, sometimes nearly invisible, country-of-origin information on the labels of juice containers you’ll see that all the big brands say the juice within comes from the U.S., Brazil, Mexico or Costa Rica.

Tuesday, FDA said the few tests they have completed found nothing of concern.

Meanwhile, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency keep pointing to each other in the debate on which agency is responsible for protecting consumers.

“EPA sets the tolerances (for pesticides) and FDA enforces them. But EPA does the risk assessment and determines the levels that can be present,” says Sebastian Cianci, a policy analyst for FDA’s press officer.

However, his counterpart in EPA says not so.

“EPA does not oversee the importation of food products; that’s FDA.

They seem to be bucking everything to us, yet this is all FDA,” said a senior EPA press officer.





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