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Coke fungicide prompts tests of Minute Maid and Simply Orange juices

Coke fungicide: Coca-Cola Co. alerted the FDA to a fungicide in its Minute Maid and Simply Orange brands of orange juice as well as a competitor's brand.

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Most orange juice products made by Coke and other companies contain a blend of juice from different sources including Brazil. In addition to Coca-Cola, Pepsico Inc.'s Tropicana brand is one of the largest U.S. orange juice producers. A spokesman for Tropicana declined to say whether the company had done its own testing for the fungicide.

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The FDA has begun testing shipments of orange juice at the border and will detain any that contain more than 10 parts per billion of the chemical. Because the fungicide is not approved for use in the United States, any amount found in food is illegal, but FDA spokeswoman Siobhan Delancey said any amount below 10 parts per billion isn't measurable. All tests released by the agency so far have been negative, she said.

The agency said it won't remove any juice currently on store shelves because it doesn't believe the levels of residue are harmful, though that juice is also being tested.

In the letter to the Juice Products Association earlier this week, FDA official Nega Beru asked the industry to ensure that suppliers in Brazil, the world's largest orange producer, and other countries stop using thefungicide.

"If the agency identifies orange juice with carbendazim at levels that present a public health risk, it will alert the public and take the necessary action to ensure that the product is removed from the market," he said.

Orange juice for March delivery fell 10 cents, or 5.3 percent, to $1.781 per pound on Wednesday. Coca-Cola Co. shares fell 49 cents to close at $67.57 and Pepsico Inc. shares fell 39 cents to close at $64.62.

The fungicide discovery comes after the FDA said it would also step up testing for arsenic in apple juice. FDA officials said last year that the agency is considering tightening restrictions for the levels of arsenic allowed in the juice after consumer groups pushed the agency to crack down on the contaminant.

Studies show that apple juice has generally low levels of arsenic, and the government says it is safe to drink. But consumer advocates say the FDA is allowing too much of the chemical — which is sometimes natural, sometimes man made — into apple juices often consumed by children.

Patty Lovera of the advocacy group Food and Water Watch said the FDA and the Agriculture Department, which also oversees food imports, should have a better system for tracking potential contaminants in food.

"It seems like we keep playing catch up chemical by chemical," she said. "As we import more and more, this isn't going to be the last time this happens."

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