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US OJ carbendazim measures may violate international trade pacts – import law firm

By Mark Astley , 13-Feb-2012
Last updated on 13-Feb-2012 at 14:46 GMT

US imposed carbendazim-related orange juice import measures could be in violation of international trade agreements, according to a US imports legal consultancy.

According to FDAImports.com, which offers legal assistance to those who encounter import problems, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is potentially exposing itself by openly admitting that shipments either detained or refused entry to the US do not pose a safety risk.

A total of 23 shipments, including 12 from Brazil, have been blocked from entering the US after banned fungicide carbendazim was found in samples taken from the imports.

Nine out of 14 imported samples collected from Florida-based facilities were also found to contain measurable levels of the fungicide between 13ppb and 36ppb.

The agency has not prevented any from entering the market - citing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines that maintain that any level of carbendazim below 80ppb does not pose a health risk.

The FDA has since concluded the sampling of imported juice from domestic manufacturers.

Highlighted violation

The firm told FoodQualityNews.com that by continuing to block these imports despite there being no safety issue; the FDA is effectively admitting that its actions are technically illegal.

“The thing that made me think twice about the measures is that there is no safety issue. They’re not recalling domestic products, but they are stopping imports.”

“The EPA says that any orange juice products with levels below 80ppb are inconsequential, in which case there is no reason to stop shipments because there are no safety issues.”

“All the FDA has highlighted is that the import programme is potentially in violation of international trade agreements.”

“In admitting that there is no safety issue, it is exposing itself,” FDAImports.com said.

The FDA measures were initially implemented after Minute Maid manufacturer, Coca-Cola, informed the agency that it had discovered the presence of carbendazim in its own marketed orange juice products, its competitors and in samples that were yet to reach the market.

“Why Coca-Cola reported it I will never know – they had no statutory obligations. And once it was reported, it was leaked and then snowballed,” FDAImports added.

“It didn’t have to be so public; they could have worked with the Brazil processors instead.”

Allowable grape levels

According to FDAImports.com, higher levels of carbendazim are often present and allowable in other fruit juices, such as apple and grape.

Thiophanate methyl (TPM), a fungicide used in the production of several fruits, naturally degrades down to the same carbendazim found in the blocked orange juice and concentrate shipments.

“TPM is allowed in grapes at a level of 5ppm, and all TPM will convert to carbendazim. That is 500 times more than allowable levels in orange juice,” said the firm.

Since FDA can only test residues it cannot really know if the processor used an illegal pesticide since pesticide residues breakdown into other chemicals, the company added.

“Well it has already affected the price of OJ and we have seen other industries that the agency has now focussed on for similar issues. The agency is in a testing phase, most fruit juices can expect scrutiny,” FDAImports.com concluded.

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