Feb. 3, 2012 -- Low levels of a banned pesticide found in orange juice imported from Brazil is safe for sale in the domestic supply, says the Food and Drug Administration after conducting new tests.
The juice, which is stored in huge, three-story high tanks in Florida, is tainted with the fungicide carbendazim, and will soon reach American grocery stores.
"In this case, we've been really cautious in working with EPA to insure that these residues are posing no safety concern," Michael Taylor, deputy director of the FDA, said Thursday.
The FDA has said that the juice is entirely safe to drink and that the amount of the fungicide in the contaminated OJ is far below unsafe levels. To test positive for the pesticide, orange juice samples had to contain at least 10 parts per billion of the pesticide.
Carbendazim has been found to cause birth defects in rodents and some chromosome problems in human cells in laboratories. However, it hasn't been found to have any health effects for humans. Carbendazim is a pesticide used to kill fungus and fungal spores. It is not approved for use on oranges in the U.S., but is lawful in other countries.
Studies show no risks of consuming carbendazim at up to 80 parts per billion, and that actual levels of danger are thousands of times higher, the Environmental Protection Agency said.
"FDA is confident that orange juice in the United States may be consumed without concerns about its safety due to the possible presence of such residues," said a statement on the agency's website.
News that government inspectors have found the banned fungicide in the domestic supply sounds alarming to some shoppers, who have already wary of drinking processed juice.
"I'll probably squeeze my own a little bit more and probably not drink as much bottled orange juice," one shopper told ABC News. "We haven't purchased orange juice since these stories came out."
Still the FDA, which began testing all orange juice on U.S. shelves and entering the country earlier this month, maintains that no serious threat is posed and that neither the contaminated OJ held at the border, nor the juice in the contaminated tanks, is dangerous.
"We think it would be unduly disruptive of the food supply to try to withdraw that product from the market," Taylor said.
But critics say the orange juice contamination does show the system is vulnerable to imported food supplies.
"For this orange juice, we're really lucky," Caroline Smith Dewall of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said. "The real concern is the next hazard that's going to enter through imported products."
The American juice processors are not being asked to clean the tanks, as the FDA says it will let the fungicide wash its way out of the storage system, along with the orange concentrate and onto store shelves over next few weeks.