Fungicide levels in orange juice spur more testing by FDA

Glass of Tropicana Ruby Red Orange Juice with oranges and grapefruit

(CBS/AP) Low levels of a fungicide have been found in orange juice, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to say it's going to step up its testing efforts.

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FDA officials said they aren't concerned about the safety of the juice but will increase testing to make sure the contamination isn't a problem. In a letter to the juice industry Monday, the agency said that an unnamed juice company contacted FDA in late December and said it had detected low levels of the fungicide carbendazim in the company's own orange juice and also in its competitors' juice. Fungicides control fungi or fungal spores in agriculture.

Although it is not approved for use on citrus in the U.S., carbendazim is used in Brazil, which exports orange juice to the U.S. and is the biggest producer of oranges in the world, according to the USDA. An FDA spokeswoman said the testing found levels up to 35 parts per billion of the fungicide - far below the European Union's maximum level of 200 parts per billion.

Top orange juice brands in the U.S. include PepsiCo's Tropicana and Minute Maid, marketed by The Coca-Cola Co. A Minute Maid spokesman declined to comment.

The FDA will begin testing shipments of orange juice at the border and will detain any that contain traces of the chemical, agency official Nega Beru said in a letter to the Juice Products Association.

What about orange juice that's currently on shelves? Because the FDA doesn't believe the levels of residue are harmful, Beru said the products will not be pulled.

"If the agency identifies orange juice with carbendazim at levels that present a public health risk, it will alert the public and take the necessary action to ensure that the product is removed from the market," he said.