Testing of Orange Juice for Fungicide May Continue Through July

A U.S. policy of temporarily holding imported orange juice while samples are tested for a banned fungicide may remain in place for as long as half a year, the Food and Drug Administration said.

Twenty-eight samples of orange juice products taken at the border await test findings after three units of orange juice from Canada showed no measurable amounts of the chemical carbendazim last week. Tests take as long as five days to complete when no carbendazim is found. If results are inconclusive, another seven days may be needed for additional analysis, said Siobhan DeLancey, an agency spokeswoman, in an interview.

Continued testing “might be for a month or six months,” DeLancey said. “It depends on what we find.”

The agency last week began holding imported orange juice after trace levels of the chemical were detected in products from Brazil. PepsiCo. Inc. also found traces of the fungicide in its Tropicana orange juice at concentations below levels that the U.S. says raises concern, according to a statement from the Purchase, New York-based company.

“We will continue to test as we take this matter seriously, and we’re working aggressively to address any concerns,” the company said.

Carbendazim is banned in use in U.S. oranges and has been linked to liver tumors in animals. European Union member states are reviewing Brazilian growers’ use of the chemical this week to determine whether more testing is needed.

U.S. regulators were alerted to use of the chemical in December by Atlanta-based Coca Cola Co., which owns the Minute Maid brand.

Reassuring Consumers

Drinking orange juice with the levels that had been detected “does not raise safety concerns,” according to an FDA letter to the Juice Products Association, a Washington trade group.

Companies are seeking to assure consumers that their orange juice is safe.

“We source a significant amount of our orange juice for the U.S. from Florida,” said Petro Kacur, a Coca Cola spokesman, in an e-mailed statement today. “We rigorously test all our ingredients using state of the art methods to ensure that they meet our safety and quality standards.”

The FDA will report test results on Fridays, Delancey said.

Imported juice containing concentrations of the chemical of 10 parts per billion or higher will be refused or destroyed, DeLancey said. Testing is also being done on domestic orange juice. That benchmark is 80 parts per billion because the Environmental Protection Agency’s risk assessment says there are no concerns at that level.

Americans consumed 1.2 million gallons from the 2009-2010 growing season, U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows. Most juice sold in the U.S. is a mix of domestic and imported product, according to the Juice Products Association.

The U.S. is the biggest single importer of orange juice and took in 190,000 metric tons last year, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. The 27-country European Union imported 800,000 tons last year.

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