FDA: Fungicide In Orange Juice Is Not A Health Risk

The Food and Drug Administration is stepping up testing of orange juice after finding traces of a chemical fungicide that is not approved for use in the United States. Regulators are holding 13 shipments of imported juice at ports until tests are completed. Even so, officials say the fungicide residue does not present a public health threat.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene, in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

I'm Steve Inskeep. This next report underlines the complexity of keeping the food supply safe. The story affects orange juice - like the juice that may be on your table this morning.

The Food and Drug Administration says it is stepping up testing of orange juice after finding traces of a chemical fungicide that is not approved for use in the U.S. Regulators are holding 13 shipments of imported O.J. at the border until tests are completed, yet officials say this fungicide residue does not present a public health risk.

Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Earlier this week, the FDA sent a letter to the Juice Product Association, the trade group that represents orange juice manufacturers - including importers - informing them that a fungicide called carbendazim had been found in several samples of orange juice imported from Brazil.

The tipoff came from Coca-Cola, maker of Minute Maid juices. Erik Olson, who is director of food programs for the Pew Health Group, an independent think tank, explains this fungicide is used in many countries, but it has never been approved for use on citrus in the U.S.

ERIK OLSON: This pesticide is not supposed to be showing up in juices, or in fruits, in the United States. And that is why it was clear, when it started to be found, that this was coming in from imports.

AUBREY: Brazil produces about 11 percent of all the O.J. consumed here in the U.S. And Coca-Cola confirmed that the country does spray the fungicide on its orange trees. FDA officials say what they've detected so far in the imported juice are trace levels of the fungicide - well below the safe limits set in Europe. Officials stressed these low levels do not pose a health risk, and people shouldn't worry about drinking orange juice.

OLSON: They've been very clear in their letter to the companies - and also in their public statements - that they don't believe that there is a safety concern, based on the information they have now.

AUBREY: As well as continuing to check imports, the FDA says it will also do spot checks on juice in grocery stores. Erik Olson says this should reveal how widespread the problem is and, most importantly, he says, could help confirm whether the FDA's initial assessment - that the fungicide is only present at trace levels - is accurate.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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