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By Elizabeth Weise
The Food and Drug Administration is holding all orange juice being imported into the United States at the border while it tests for contamination with a fungus-killing chemical. The action is lowering stock prices for companies that sell orange juice and raising questions about the ability of the overstretched agency to protect the safety of the U.S. food system, critics say.
The FDA began the testing for the fungicide on Jan. 4. It has gotten back three preliminary tests "and they're all negative" for the chemical, FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said. As soon as the final tests come back, assuming they too are negative, the product will be allowed to enter the country.
The hold came about when Coca-Cola Co. found carbendazim in routine tests of the orange juice that its Minute Maid subsidiary had imported from Brazil. It then tested competitors' products and found fungicide residue there as well. The company "was a good corporate citizen" and alerted the FDA to its findings in late December, DeLancey said.
"This is an industry issue," Coca-Cola spokesman Dan Schafer said. "We detected the low levels in most of the products we tested."
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