Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was stepping up inspections of imported orange juice, after tests by Coca-Cola (owner of the Minute Maid and Simply Orange juice brands) found that samples of its OJ tested positive for carbendazim, a cancer-causing fungicide that’s banned in U.S. orange production.
Since that announcement, the Los Angeles Times is reporting, the agency has seized 14 percent of juice shipments, all of which were contaminated with the banned pesticide. FDA officials continue to insist that the juice is not harmful, just that the pesticide was banned and therefore made the products illegal.
“We don’t feel that this is a safety problem,” FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey told the Times. “This is more of a regulatory issue.” For that reason, the agency isn’t issuing any recalls of orange juice already on shelves, whether they contain carbendazim or not.
Most orange juice imported to the U.S. comes from Brazil, followed by Mexico, Costa Rica, and Belize, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Carbendazim is allowed on citrus crops in all those countries, although growers aren’t supposed to use it on fruit that will wind up in Americans’ juice glasses.
As might be expected, the food industry is mad at the FDA for stepping up enforcement. The agency tests orange juice concentrate, which you either buy frozen in cartons or reconstituted in juices, and as a result, concentrates have higher levels of the banned pesticide than you might be exposed to in a glass of juice. Ignoring the fact that the pesticide is banned and not legally allowed in any amount in any form, the Juice Processors Association released a statement saying, “juice processors maintain that evaluating orange juice on an ‘as consumed’ basis rather than as concentrate, which no one drinks as is, is the logical and practical way to assure safety for the consumer.”