Last week Coca-Cola said it “alerted the Food and Drug Administration after it discovered via testing its own and competitors’ products that some Brazilian growers had sprayed their orange trees with a fungicide that is not approved for use in the U.S.,” the Associated Press reports. Despite being banned for use in the U.S., this fungicide, known as carbendazim, is still used in Brazil.
The Agricultural Department explains that Brazil is the world’s largest producer of oranges. Growers use carbendazim to fight the development of the black spot fungus that produces blemishes on the fruit and makes it less visually attractive to consumers. However, this fungus does not impact the taste of the fruit or crop size. A study from the World Health Organization explains this chemical has been linked to liver tumor development in animals, among other risks.
Coca-Cola declined to say whether the fungicide was present in their products, but the FDA did say that the low levels found do not pose a safety threat. However, they said that increased testing will take place to make sure this does not become a greater problem. Coca-Cola’s orange juice products include Minute Maid and Simply Orange.
Last Saturday, Coca-Cola’s competitor, PepsiCo Inc., announced that they found traces of the potentially dangerous fungicide in tests of their Tropicana orange juice. Tropicana is one of the biggest brands of orange juice in the U.S. Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo saw their shares fall when this report came out from the AP.
This most recent warning comes after last year’s disturbing reports of the presence of arsenic in apple and grape juices at levels that exceed the accepted quantity found in bottled and public water. Unfortunately, no federal arsenic limits for juices and most other foods currently exist, which allows these unsafe juices to stay on the market.
Perhaps most frightening about these two reports has been the way the Food and Drug Administration has responded. Although Coca-Cola alerted the federal safety administration of the presence of the pesticides in its samples in December, the FDA did not disclose these results until January 9. The agency took a similarly muted response during last year’s arsenic scare as it simply attempted to allay consumer concerns about the risk and not propose significant changes.
According to Consumer Reports, the FDA said that “most arsenic in juices and other foods is of the organic type that is ‘essentially harmless.’” However, a study by Consumer Reports found this was not the case. 10 percent of juices sampled showed levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a known carcinogen, higher than federal drinking water standards.
Two days after the news release from Coca-Cola, MSNBC explained the FDA “halted shipments of imported orange juice from all over the world” in order to “test each one for traces of fungicide.” The FDA is still awaiting the results of testing on 28 of these samples. Nevertheless, last week’s news releases from the orange juice producers highlighted the agency’s delayed response to the company concerns and may have painted the FDA in a bad light.
An article from the Associated Press goes on to point out that an increase in imported overseas food may contribute to our perceived dietary risks, particularly because the “expensive environmental rules” seen in the U.S. are not present elsewhere. The article explains that about 85 percent of our apple juice is imported, much of it from China, which likely helps account for last year’s concerns over the presence of arsenic. Today, about 16.8 percent of the food we eat is imported, which is up from the 11.3 percent seen 20 years ago.
It remains to be seen if the actions taken by the FDA will erode public confidence in the agency, its future warnings, and the safety of our food imports. However, this stands as a solid reminder of the personal interest all citizens need to take in their health and wellness, particularly with their diets.