If you start your day with a glass of orange juice, you may have read the recent headlines about concerns of imported juice because of a residual fungicide that is banned in the United States. All imported juice was held for testing, though Brazilian juice was the primary suspect. This week, FDA cleared 19 samples of imported juice from the 45 that were collected, but then today bumped up the number to 90 samples. Of the 19 samples that were cleared, they came from Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico and Canada, not Brazil.
Should this matter to you and your morning glass of sunshine? Yes, say some health experts, though some say the ban was an alarmist reaction that is causing orange juice commodity prices to skyrocket, the price rose from $2.0625 before the recall to $2.2695 on Monday. So far the tests have not revealed fungicide exposure above a level that FDA would immediately consider for a recall. Statements from the FDA say not to worry, “Continue to enjoy your orange juice.”
If you are a skeptic, or have faith in FDA, here are some details to help solidify your decision one-way or the other.
How does the fungicide get in the orange juice? The orange juice industry uses flavor packs, made from imported essence and oils in the orange peel, where the fungicide is most concentrated.
Who is monitoring the safety of imported foods, like orange juice? Coca-Cola and Pepsi discovered the problem and reported it to FDA, not the other way around. Good on Coca-Cola and Pepsi, as they are required to report these types of findings. Some would argue that this is how the system should work. Coca-Cola and Pepsi were testing a competitor’s orange juice, hence the discovery.
Critics say this is the first test of any type on orange juice imports that have happen in many years. Apparently the FDA is too squeezed financially to test the Brazilian orange juice imports, which account for 10% of US orange juice. The United States is the largest importer of orange juice, 190,000 metric tons in 2011, which should warrant closer FDA scrutiny.
How dangerous and widespread is exposure to the fungicide? The fungicide in question, called carbendazim, is widely used in countries like Brazil. Carbendazim is a close cousin to another fungicide called, benomyl, which FDA banned because of birth defect risks. Benomyl breaks down into carbendazim in the body, and causes male fertility issues and liver cancer. An FDA spokesperson told USA Today that one of the tests submitted by Coke or Pepsi found 35 parts per billion (ppb) of carbendazim. But since there is no legal limit for the fungicide, in this case, FDA has set a limit of 10 parts ppb for imported juice (the Environmental Protection Agency limit is 80 ppb for domestic juice). And since, imported juice is blended with domestic juice, the FDA is saying risk for exposure is low.
Food Safety watch dog groups say a better solution would be for Brazil to find a better way to grow oranges or imports will cease, and for FDA to set stronger limits for banned pesticides. United States orange growers have long since found safer methods that don’t put consumer’s health at risk. This case spotlighted a growing problem of the safety of imported goods, especially when substances banned in this country are used in foods imported to this country.
What can I do to avoid exposure to carbendazim? The best fail-safe measure is to buy organic orange juice or orange juice made solely from American orange farmers. Thanks to new labeling laws, both juice and produce are required to be labeled with a county of origin. The labels will tell you where the oranges were grown that were used to make the juice. Here is a list of brands to look for (if you know of other brands: please leave a comment):
Organic Orange Juice Brands
Organic Valley Organic Orange Juice
Uncle Matt’s Organic Orange Juice
Noble Organic Orange Juice
Non-organic Orange Juice made from domestically grown oranges
Tropicana Pure Premium
Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co