Product Labeling and Brand Honesty: Do You Know What’s in Your Food?
I recently came across an article in the Yahoo! Finance section titled “Coca-Cola Says it Alerted FDA About Fungicide.” If the article concerned a brand I don’t use, then I may have skipped it. But because I’m an avid Coca-Cola drinker and somebody mentioned fungicide, I knew I had to read the article, and upon completing it I was shocked and appalled.
To sum it up for you, apparently Coca-Cola did some testing (of its own products and those of competitors) and they found low-levels of fungicide in orange products shipped from Brazil. Not a big deal, right? WRONG! About 40% of orange juice and orange juice products in the U.S. are imported from Brazil. I’m shocked that they would allow the distribution and consumption of a product to young and old knowing there is a chemical there that’s not supposed to be (regardless of the amounts)!
Here’s where it gets interesting. The fungicide they found is called carbendazim, and here are a few facts about it, straight from the EPA:
- In the U.S, carbendazim is approved as fungicide in paints, adhesives, textiles, and ornamental trees. [Yet we are drinking it — something sounds very wrong here.]
- It is not approved for use on foods in the U.S.
- [This recent] risk assessment shows that there is no public health concern from drinking orange juice containing carbendazim at reported levels.
In the U.S, carbendazim is approved for non-edibles like paints, adhesives, textiles, and ornamental trees.
So, this fungicide is not approved for citrus in the U.S., but it’s used in other countries to treat crops infected with fungal diseases like rot, mold, and mildew. Brazil farmers had been spraying their orange trees with the fungicide. But don’t worry, the EPA and the World Health Organization claim that risks are high only if large doses are consumed. What does that even mean? What is a “large” dose? My daughter drinks orange juice EVERY DAY! Is that considered a large dose? What are the side effects of large doses? Why is this even in our food/drinks? The EPA did release a PDF with more toxicity details, but it wasn’t very reassuring. I was appalled at myself and the fact that I’m not nearly as aware as I should be of what is in the food I’m consuming. Now I tend to be much more diligent in the food my daughter consumes mainly because she’s a toddler and I don’t want anything going into her body that isn’t supposed to be there or meant to help her. I was hysterical after reading this, and due to this news I switched her to a U.S. brand of OJ (after careful research in how it’s grown and treated in the growing process and what is in it after production, of course).
Coca-Cola won’t admit if their products were among the test results containing fungicide (they produce the Minute Maid brand of orange juice). However, consumers are pushing for companies to push warning and acknowledgements that these products are in the food/drink they are consuming. Of course, nobody wants to do this because it hurts the brand (and we all know we can’t have that). If you hurt the brand, you hurt the revenue and that’s a “no-no” in the business world. But as it is, the morning this article was published Coca-Cola shares dropped $0.40 and Pepsi shares dropped $0.28.
Suddenly, these don’t look so appetizing…
Now, I’m not one to be aggressively “pro-this” or “anti-that,” but this article really got me thinking. I’m not from Brazil; I live in the U.S. and was born and raised here so I only know the health concerns immediately affecting us. The fungicide was banned in the U.S. for a reason (whatever that may be), and due to many different factors it was received as more of a negative response than a positive, and therefore its use in food and drink was stopped. Any person living anywhere is going to have a certain immune system built up to the sickness and issues of that given area, but just because it doesn’t prove to be a threat in Brazil doesn’t mean it is not a threat to Americans. We don’t have the same immunities as Brazilians do. We live in different climates with different issues and different threats. So there is no reason to assume if it doesn’t pose a threat to them it won’t pose a threat to us. Right?
Granted, this is not the first time in history something like this has happened, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. I’ve noticed an insurgence of the “Buy American” movement in the wake of this orange juice problem, and more people are now buying food, drink, and other American-made products instead of imported. The idea is that an American-made product follows the rules and regulations (hopefully) of our country and ensures some sense of safety and good health. Well, I’m all for that!
Do you really pay attention to everything you consume? What side of the fence are you on? Should brands like Coca-Cola be required to label their products accordingly?