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Brazilian orange growers open to fungicide alternatives

By Shasta Darlington, CNN
updated 7:43 AM EST, Tue January 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Brazil is the biggest orange juice exporter in the world
  • The United States currently buys 15 percent of BrazilĀ¹s orange juice exports
  • Producer: "We can adapt to the American system with other products"

Taquaritinga, Brazil (CNN) -- Brazil's orange harvest is nearing its end as workers in the state of Sao Paulo pluck late-blooming fruit from the trees.

The yellow-green oranges will be shipped off to nearby juice factories and then shipped around the globe.

Those exports rake in $2 billion for Brazil, the biggest orange juice exporter in the world, accounting for 85 percent of global exports.

But now, it is not clear if Brazilian orange juice will be allowed into one of its key markets: the United States.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration temporarily halted all orange juice imports after low levels of the unapproved fungicide carbendazim were found in some juice shipments from Brazil. More recently, the FDA said the juice is safe for consumption.

Growers in Sao Paulo say they have been using carbendazim for some 20 years and point out that it is allowed -- in low levels -- across Europe and Latin America. It is also allowed in trace amounts in other food products, like nuts, in the United States.

"We didn't even know that it had been banned in orange juice in the United States in 2009," Marco Antonio dos Santos, a third generation orange grower, told CNN.

Dos Santos, also the president of the Citrus Department at the Agriculture Ministry, says there are alternatives, however.

In fact, he and other growers already rotate the use of carbendazim with other fungicides and techniques for preventing diseases like black spot, which make the oranges fall from the trees before they are ripe.

He says Brazilian growers don't want to lose the American market, which is their second biggest after Europe. The United States currently buys 15 percent of BrazilĀ¹s orange juice exports.

"If we have to, we'll eliminate this product completely," he said as he walked, showing off his 60-acre grove.

"We want to supply the American market, we don't in any way want to lose it. We can adapt to the American system with other products."

Growers here would take a hit if this latest crop were barred from America.

Global orange juice prices would rise, too.

But Dos Santos says producers can adapt quickly and could produce the next crop carbendazim-free if it were necessary.

While Brazilian farmers and industry leaders don't see a threat to consumers' health, they say the most important thing is that people aren't afraid to drink orange juice.

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