Orange Juice Import Ban: FDA Halts Shipments Over Fungicide Scare

UPDATE: Since yesterday afternoon, the FDA has lowered the alarm level somewhat. FDA officials clarified their announcement by saying that there is no reason to think that the trace levels of fungicide in the OJ supply constitute a health threat at this time, and that the testing regime is borne out of extreme caution rather than knowledge of present danger.

Also, the FDA announced that it had started clearing some orange juice shipments, including some from Canada, for entrance into U.S. borders. Mostly that raises the question, who knew you could grow oranges in Canada?

Meanwhile, food safety officials from abroad have started reacting to the American move. EU officials said they would take a fresh look at their orange juice importation polices next week, but noted that they were unlikely to make drastic changes. Australian orange juice importers, on the other hand, said that they had no plans to stop importing Brazilian juice.

EARLIER: The FDA announced Wednesday that it would temporarily halt all imports of foreign orange juice. The blockade was prompted by fears that some foreign orange juice -- especially juice imported from Brazil -- contains traces of carbendazim, a fungicide banned in the United States. The import ban is set to last until the FDA has finished conducting a thorough investigation of fungicide levels.

The news of the OJ import ban comes just one day after it was revealed that the FDA would ramp up testing for the illegal additive.

Once that news broke, though, many in the orange juice market began to fear that an import ban was at hand. As a result, prices for OJ futures briefly spiked to an all-time high of $2.07 per pound. Today's trading brought that price down to $1.88 as speculators began to think that fears of FDA action had been overblown. Today's late-breaking news of the import ban likely portends another heavy day of trading tomorrow.

Carbendazim was banned relatively recently; it was used to kill black fungus on Florida oranges as recently as 2008. It is still legal in Brazil, however, and the EU allows foods to contain up to 200 parts per billion of the fungicide. But studies linking carbendazim to increased rates of cancers and infertility prompted an outright ban of its use on American oranges.

The FDA has said that it will move forward on measures to take tainted orange juice off supermarket shelves if its testing uncovers unsafe levels of carbendazim.

The overwhelming majority of orange juice consumed in the United States is produced from domestic oranges, though most of the imported juice comes from Brazil. To find out where your favorite brand gets its oranges, read the HuffPost Kitchen Daily guide to OJ.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user paulswansen.