Removing fungicide from the orange juice agenda

Updated: 2012-01-31 11:04

By Marcos Fava Neves (

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The orange juice is a very unique product. The large commercial production for concentrated orange juice is done mostly in two regions, the states of Florida in the USA and São Paulo, in Brazil, and more recently growing in China. It is a very sophisticated production process, since it is a long-term investment (20 years) of very specific and dedicated assets. Orange trees are a sensitive crop, requiring huge efforts from growers to keep production and quality.

The recent situation where the fungicide carbendazim was found, up to this moment in 14% of all the juice imported by the USA is what I call a "not necessary point to be added to the agenda of the stakeholders involved in the USA/Brazil orange juice business". Why?

First of all, the orange juice chain was very transparent, actively communicating the situation since the beginning and offering help. Their agenda have several other topics that need efforts and dedicated time to address within collective actions involving USA/Brazil public and private organizations. To make it easier, I will resume the orange juice agenda in 3 C’s… costs, consumption and coordination. Regarding to costs, chains in Brazil (São Paulo) and USA (Florida) are having struggling cost increases, due to labour, land prices, logistics, energy, taxes and diseases. Efforts are being made in innovations to face the challenges, but much more is needed by Brazilian and USA organizations to help farmers and industry continue supplying good value, quality and safe orange juice to the consumers.

The second C, consumption, is where much more effort is needed. Due to several facts, mostly the launching of new beverages that occupied the space of orange juice, consumption is falling in very important markets, like the USA and Germany. New marketing efforts were done by Brazilians (CitrusBR and APEX), with the "I feel orange" campaign ( and also by Florida Department of Citrus, with the new campaign launched targeting non-loyalists.

The third C in the USA/Brazil agenda is better coordination among Florida and Sao Paulo organizations, being private and public, to build up a stronger industry. Participants are putting a lot of effort in Brazil to build the Consecitrus, a new fruit pricing mechanism based on international prices of juice and by-products. This will avoid disturbances and remove the focus of the chain towards productivity and juice demand development. Another necessary coordination effort are the investments in building and managing stocks to avoid price fluctuations that follows the incredible crop fluctuations that damaged the industry in Brazil and Florida. Now it will be possible to offer to juice packers a more stable supply of juice.

As seen, the orange juice chain, which employs a lot of people in Brazil and in the USA, has several challenges to be addressed in order to keep jobs, taxes for Governments and development for both regions. The USA needs Brazilian juice to complement and blend the local offer and it is a chain that is performing this way for more than 40 years, bringing safe juice to USA consumers, produced by dedicated farmers and industry in both countries. Several Brazilian investments were done in Florida and vice-versa in the last decades. It is just one industry of orange juice needing to plan its future together. The fungicide carbendazim is needed for disease control and is not registered for orange in the USA. The FDA was very effective communicating no health concerns, since the amount founded is far below the maximum levels accepted (in Europe the levels are 200 ppb). The juice will even be diluted and blended with others, which will contribute to reduce even more the final levels to the consumer. It is more a registration than a health issue.

The problem that I considered as an undesirable new issue to the agenda is the fact that unnecessarily orange juice went to media all over the world and mostly in the USA, receiving headlines that is was contaminated with fungicides. Some linking orange juice to birth defects, others telling that the flavor of juice was "fungicide". We know how headlines are built, and the following link is one example a negative headline different from the relatively positive content of the article. (,0,3282575.story).

My hypothesis is that most consumers will only see the media headlines and will not go through more details that the juice is safe. This may lead to a reduction in consumption, and the negative impact will be felt in all juice industry, North and South American. So the question is: how do we remove this carbendazim topic from the agenda as soon as possible? The juice business already faces a full agenda.

The author is professor of strategic planning and food chains at the School of Economics and Business, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil ( and international speaker. Author of the Orange Juice Business, by Wageningen Publishers, Netherlands.