What is the problem?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received reports that low levels of the chemical carbendazim have been found in some orange juice products that contain imported orange juice concentrates.
Carbendazim is a fungus-killing chemical used in Brazil and some other countries to preserve agricultural crops. Brazil provides about 11 percent of the orange juice in the United States market, and industry reports indicate that carbendazim is being used there because of a problem with black spot, a type of mold that grows on orange trees.
However, use of carbendazim on oranges and in orange juices is illegal in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not approved the use of carbendazim as a pesticide on oranges and it is an unlawful pesticide residue under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Should I stop drinking orange juice?
No. FDA believes the levels of carbendazim are so low that there are no public health concerns. The agency bases this conclusion on the preliminary risk assessment conducted by EPA, the agency that evaluates the safety of pesticides.
If FDA identifies a brand of orange juice that presents a public health risk due to levels of carbendazim, the agency will alert the public and take the appropriate next steps to ensure that the product is removed from the market.
How did FDA find out about this?
On Dec. 28, 2011, FDA learned from a juice manufacturer that it had detected low levels of carbendazim in some of its orange juice products and also in some of its competitors’ products. The pesticide was also reported in some Brazilian orange juice concentrate that had not been processed into finished product.
Shortly thereafter, FDA sent a letter to the Juice Products Association–the trade association that represents the fruit and juice products industry–stating that carbendazim is a pesticide that is not approved for use on oranges in the United States and that its residues are not allowed in orange juice. Accordingly, FDA will not permit orange juice products containing measurable levels of carbendazim to continue to enter the country.
However, because of the very low levels reported and EPA’s risk assessment, FDA also stated that requiring a recall or the destruction of orange juice products already on the market is not warranted.
What is FDA doing about this?
-FDA is testing samples of orange juice at various manufacturing facilities to determine if any of these products contain carbendazim and at what levels. If orange juice is found with carbendazim in amounts that may be a health risk, FDA will alert the public and take actions to ensure that the product is removed from the market. At this time, FDA does not believe that the amounts of carbendazim found in orange juice and reported to the agency pose any health risk.
-FDA is collecting and analyzing samples of orange juice products that arrive at U.S. borders from all countries and will not allow any that contain measurable levels of carbendazim to enter the United States. Brazil and Mexico are the top two countries that ship orange juice concentrate to the U.S. and both allow carbendazim use. It’s important to know that more than three-quarters of the orange juice sold in the U.S. is from oranges grown in the United States.
-FDA is working closely with EPA in this matter because EPA evaluates the safety of pesticides and approves them for use in the United States. EPA has not approved carbendazim for use in this country; however, EPA determined that the amount of the chemical reported in certain orange juice products does not pose a health risk.
How can I tell if orange juice is from Brazil?
You can read the food label, which is required to list any foreign countries that produced the orange juice concentrate–whether the juice is frozen concentrated (the water is removed) or reconstituted ready-to-drink (the water is added back in to make it liquid.) Note that many orange juice products contain at least some juice from Brazil but that the levels of carbendazim are so low that they do not pose a safety concern. And, for those products now entering the United States from Brazil and elsewhere, they cannot enter the U.S. if they contain measurable amounts of carbendazim.
Why are we importing all this juice anyway?
Orange juice is very popular in this country and to meet the supply year-round, it is common for U.S. food manufacturers who use orange juice in their products to use both domestic and imported orange juice. And juice made from oranges grown domestically (in this country) may not be available year-round due to hurricanes and other weather events.
Brazil is the main source of orange juice concentrate imported into the U.S; however, no whole oranges are imported from Brazil. While Brazil produces the most orange juice in the world, only about 11 percent of the U.S. orange juice supply comes from Brazil. That juice is generally blended with juice from the U.S. and other countries.
For More Information
FDA Letter to Juice Industry
Orange Juice Products and Carbendazim
Import Alerts Guard Against Unsafe Products