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Carbendazim in orange juice and orange juice drinks continues to impact the international trade in concentrate and distort local markets.

Australia banned the use of carbendazim, a common fungicide, on pome fruit (apples and pears), turf and other horticultural crops, including orange trees, in 2010 because of birth defects and male infertility in laboratory animals. 

In early 2012, orange juice markets came under even greater pressure, following clarification that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not approved carbendazim for use on orange trees. At the same time, the US Food and Drugs Administration (US FDA) also confirmed that carbendazim was, and still is, an unlawful pesticide residue in orange juice marketed and sold in the US. As a result of the discovery of contaminated imports, the US FDA introduced an import testing programme to identify tainted product and remove it from the supply chain before it reaches the consumer. In the EU, Carbenzadim is not approved for use with orange production, and imports from outside the EU are subject to maximum residue limits (MRLs) of 0.2 mg/kg (200ppb).

High doses damage fertility

Commonly used to control plant disease in cereals and fruits, including citrus, bananas, strawberries, pineapples and pomes, carbendazim is a broad-spectrum fungicide. In recent years studies have identified the risk that when consumed in high doses it has been found to cause infertility. As a result of these studies MRLs have been reduced in many markets. In both Australia and the US it remains not approved for use on orange trees. This has created supply and demand issues for both the industry’s growers and buyers.

New fungicide development

Brazil, the world’s leading suppliers of oranges, orange juice and frozen concentrate orange juice (FCOJ) has been hardest hit and is exploring all the options to continue the supply of export-grade fruit to the juice industry.  However, researching, developing, testing and launching new fungicide molecules for citrus production is an expensive and slow process. Costs are estimated to reach USD 250 million, while the process, from discovery to commercial availability of a new fungicide could take up to ten years. 

Fundecitrus, Brazil’s national citrus protection defence fund, is leading the campaign for the development of new fungicide products. In the interim Brazil has removed carbendazim from its list of recommended fungicides for producers.

Market distortion

Brazil exports approximately 98%1 of its fresh and processed oranges. The new testing programme introduced by the US FDA to identify carbendazim residues on oranges and/or in orange juice has prompted Brazil to find new or existing markets with higher MRLs and a need for imports.

Australia in particular has felt the impact of these changes. Although banned for use within the country, imported oranges and FCOJ may still be treated with carbendazim. This inconsistency is causing market distortions as Brazil continues to export carbendazim contaminated FCOJ to the country without limit, while domestic suppliers must find alternative fungicides and bear the cost of their development.  

With relatively high per capita orange juice consumption, an average of 23 litres per capita , per annum, Australia has been importing FCOJ since the 1970s. Today Australia’s juice industry has an underlying demand of approximately 500,000 metric tonnes2. Domestic growers can supply only 250,000 metric tonnes2. The remainder must be imported.  In 2011, some 89%2 of these needs were met by imports from Brazil.  Carbendazim contaminated FCOJ is, presently, cheaper than domestically produced orange juice, putting pressure on local growers and threatening the sustainability of the local industry.

Residue testing

Protecting consumers and brands requires growers, producers, manufacturers and importers to verify that all oranges and orange juice products meet relevant regulations and the MRLs of their destination market.

Depending on the residue being tested for and the products being tested, testing is performed on high performance liquid chromatographs with tandem mass spectrometers (HPLC-MS/MS), gas chromatographs with tandem mass spectrometers (GC-MS/MS), high performance liquid chromatographs with mass spectrometers (HPLC/ MS), gas chromatographs with mass spectrometers (GC/MS) or gas chromatographs with electron capture detectors GC/ECD.

SGS has global capabilities to perform a broad range of residue testing on oranges and a wider variety of products. 

For further information on SGS services please visit SGS Foodsafety page. 

  1. Brazilian Orange Juice - Fruitful Sustainability
  2. Senate Committee Inquiry into the Citrus Industry in Australia

For further information, please contact:

Jim Cook
Food Scientific and Regulatory Affairs
Manager
SGS North America, Inc.
t: +1 973 461 1493