FDA halts testing of all imported orange juice shipments to US ports for illegal fungicide carbendazim after four months; testing started Jan. 4 after Tropicana, Minute Maid brands reported fungicide in its Brazilian orange juice products

LAKELAND, Florida , June 2, 2014 () – The federal government has halted testing of all imported OJ shipments to U.S. ports for the illegal fungicide carbendazim after four months.

"Any future sampling will be done under routine surveillance activities," said Steven Immergut, associate commissioner for public affairs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a Thursday email to the Ledger Media Group.

The FDA disclosed in early January it would begin testing all OJ imports for carbendazim, which is illegal in the U.S.

It began testing on Jan. 4 after the top two U.S. orange juice brands, Tropicana and Minute Maid, reported that some of their OJ products containing Brazilian OJ had minor traces of the fungicide.

Brazilian growers used carbendazim extensively until the controversy arose.

Brazilian officials announced in January they would cease using the fungicide but acknowledged it would take 18 months to eliminate all carbendazim traces from its OJ.

Research has linked carbendazim with cancer and birth defects, but the FDA determined OJ products with levels below 80 parts per billion is safe.

The Tropicana and Minute Maid products had 35 parts per billion or less.


But the FDA testing program held imports to a stricter standard. It barred from entry any shipment with as little as 10 parts per billion, the minimum level detectable by current testing procedures. Under that standard, the FDA has barred 30 OJ imports after testing 167 shipments as of May 7, Immergut said in his email.

That included 14 shipments from Brazil; 12 shipments from Canada, which uses Brazilian imports in its OJ products; two from Costa Rica; and one each from the Dominican Republic and Poland.

In its last April 5 report, the FDA reported barring the same 30 imports after testing 144 shipments through March.

Immergut and FDA spokeswoman Pat El-Hinnawy could not answer questions Thursday elaborating on the FDA's "routine surveillance activities."

Kristen Gunter, executive director of the Florida Citrus Processors Association, said the FDA ceased mandatory testing of a company's OJ imports after three shipments tested negative for carbendazim.

Companies placed on the FDA's "Import Alert" list after one or more positive test for carbendazim were required to hire an independent lab to test all subsequent shipments, Gunter said.

The rule required the lab, not the importer, to collect samples and report results only to the FDA.

Once a company on the alert list showed five consecutive clean shipments, the FDA would release it from mandatory testing, she said.

"I'm not aware of anybody who's gotten off the Import Alert list," Gunter said. "We do not have the capacity to have 100 percent of all food shipments to the U.S. tested. OJ is probably being treated like any other food product. I think the precautions are there."

The carbendazim issue became national news, and U.S. consumers reacted by sending domestic OJ sales into double-digit declines for four straight months from January to April.

The drop moderated last month, but U.S. retail OJ sales still declined 8.1 percent.

Gunter expressed optimism the U.S. market would return to normal after the end of the FDA's mandatory testing.

"We hope so. Nobody can predict the market," Gunter said.

Kevin Bouffard can be reached at kevin.bouffard@theledger.com or at 863-422-6800. Read more on Florida citrus on his Facebook page, Florida Citrus Witness, http://bit.ly/baxWuU.


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