Fungicide Scare Trickles Down To Domestic Oranges

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Nowhere are oranges more important than in Florida. The state grows most of the oranges consumed in the United States. So any scare about tainted foreign fruit is bound to trickle down to the domestic industry.


You may wonder what all this means for that morning staple, Florida orange juice. Steve Newborn of member station WUSF in Tampa went to find out.


STEVE NEWBORN, BYLINE: It's the afternoon rush hour at Bearss Groves, a green patch that has survived for more than a century in the spreading concrete sprawl just north of Tampa.

ELIZABETH LEGGETT: Have you ever had an edible orchid?


NEWBORN: Brian Arnette and Elizabeth Leggett are filling their canvas tote bags with locally grown produce and citrus.

LEGGETT: I love my orange juice just the same. As long as it's pulp-free, I'm happy about it. That's all I need.

BRIAN ARNETTE: I get the from-Florida, anyway.

LEGGETT: Yeah. If it's from Florida, that's what we drink.

NEWBORN: Just behind the roadside fruit stand is a citrus packing and juicing house, where fruit is sorted and fresh-squeezed.

Manager Ben Doster says this FDA testing will be a temporary blip in the public consciousness. He says the industry has faced health scares before, but they've always been short-lived.

BEN DOSTER: I'm not too worried yet. I think it'll come and go. It'll ebb in and out.

BILL RAFFETY: This has caused a tremendous amount of volatility.

NEWBORN: Bill Raffety, an analyst at Penson Futures in New York, says this week's news has caused orange juice futures prices to soar and then crash, because the Brazilian fruit in question is often mixed with domestic oranges.

RAFFETY: Market moved 20 cents yesterday, which is a huge move. A freeze would cause a move like this.

NEWBORN: Citrus is big business in Florida. The state produces almost three-quarters of all citrus consumed in the U.S., and it's worth an estimated $9 billion to the Florida economy. So it's not surprising that growers are scared to talk about what's happening. Several declined to comment for this story, saying they didn't want to create unnecessary panic.

Andrew Meadows, with the growers association Florida Citrus Mutual, says he's not surprised.

ANDREW MEADOWS: You know, it is frustrating for us. Our regulators, the FDA, has determined that this juice is 100 percent safe. You know, it's business as usual in our industry, and we're still producing a wholesome, healthy product.

NEWBORN: The image of Florida's citrus industry has always been about health, sunshine and green groves. But Meadows says it's an industry that's gotten smaller in recent years because of development gobbling up land, freezes and other issues. And dealing with scares like this are just one of those challenges.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Newborn, in Tampa.

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