- Published on Saturday, 21 January 2012 23:23
- Written by Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual
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Last week intense media coverage focused on reports that Minute Maid found trace amounts of a fungicide called carbendizam in orange juice imported from Brazil late last year.
Brazil supplies the United States market with 15 percent of its orange juice. The rest is primarily produced in Florida. Florida citrus growers do not use carbendizam.
After a risk assessment, federal regulators concluded that consumption of the Brazilian orange juice with the fungicide present at extremely low levels did not raise safety concerns. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration then said it would test all orange juice imports at ports of entry and any juice with more than 10 parts per billion of carbendizam would not be allowed into the United States. No juice has been denied entry since the FDA’s policy was implemented.
But seeing and reading some of the media reports one would think this was a full blown public health crisis. The Florida citrus industry received hundreds of inquiries from media outlets across the globe who thought they had a “gotcha” story about dangerous juice despite the facts pointing to the contrary. And this wasn’t even a Florida problem!
Several inaccurate reports surfaced when a major business wire service chose to use the word “halt” to describe the FDA’s increased testing of Brazilian orange juice. “Halt” gradually morphed into “stop” and “deny” when other media outlets picked up the wire service story and wrote their own headlines. This language indicated the juice was unsafe and denied access to the U.S. market which was simply not true. The futures market skyrocketed on the reports. Whether the industry ultimately loses a significant amount of OJ drinkers remains to be seen. It would be tragic if it happened based on slanted media reports.
The truth of the matter is that Florida citrus, and production agriculture in general, is a tightly regulated industry and growers will continue to follow the rules set out by local, state and federal authorities. We have the utmost confidence in the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to make decisions that protect public health. We encourage consumers to keep drinking orange juice and feel good about it.
It’s not my job to defend the products of our largest competitor Brazil. If there are unsafe levels of any chemical in orange juice from Brazil, or Florida for that matter, regulators should take appropriate action. Headline grabbing media hysteria is counterproductive and most certainly doesn’t protect consumers. The public deserves better.