AC Alert for January 17, 2012 Yet Another Food Crisis

Jan 18, 2012 10:20 AM ET

AC Alert for January 17, 2012 Yet Another Food Crisis

Larry has always been a strong advocate of drinking orange juice (“OJ”). He usually downs a minimum of 12 ounces daily, sometimes a lot more. A self-proclaimed physical fitness advocate, Larry concurs with many health experts who believe that OJ is an excellent way to beat dehydration and fatigue, while boosting energy levels and metabolism.

Of course, it is also a great source of Vitamin C – so Larry usually tries to keep several fresh half gallon containers in the ‘fridge so he won't get caught short, especially if the weather turns nasty. Needless to say, he wasn't very happy last week when he heard reports about rising prices for Orange Juice. Cold weather in Florida again? He had heard that explanation many times before -- but this year there was a different issue at play.

Trouble in the Juice
The market for orange juice futures received another jolt last week after the federal government said some Brazilian imports contained a potentially harmful fungicide. An FDA spokeswoman said a juice company anonymously called the government agency late last month to report the presence of the fungicide carbendazim.

The news on Tuesday sent prices of the January contract soaring 9.7% to a record settlement as traders fretted that the appearance of the fungicide could lead to a sharp reduction in Brazilian orange juice imports. Traders already had driven prices higher this year amid worries that a recent cold snap in Florida had damaged crops.

In just six trading days, frozen orange juice concentrate futures have soared 26% -- settling at $2.1275 a pound on Tuesday on the ICE Futures U.S. exchange. The price move is in reaction to fears that supplies are going to be limited as a result of the fungicide discovery, according to Judy Ganes-Chase, president of J. Ganes Consulting, an independent commodities consulting firm. If prices remain at these elevated levels, it soon could be reflected in prices on supermarket shelves." (Source: The Wall Street Journal).

Once again, consumers here and abroad are potentially impacted by a concern within the global food chain. In recent years we have seen incidents of food-borne illness from common foods such as cantaloupes, eggs, spinach, tomatoes, ground beef, peanut butter, candy, pet food, and cookie dough. The nearly weekly investigations and recalls of various foods items from the USA and abroad created ever- mounting  pressure on the US Congress to take action and also prompted AC Editors to initiate a new Hot Topic section entitled Focus on Food Safety.

Food, trust and provider accountability -- the three terms clearly go together. We consume food hundreds, even thousands of miles from its origination.  Trust is everything!  Anything that we put in our bodies every day should be “trustworthy,” in terms of where it came from -- and everyone involved in the food supply chain should be accountable for their actions (or inaction in certain cases). 

From grower to farmer to planter to food processor to retailer or food service or restaurant…and then to each of us – there is a clear chain of accountability. Trust is the important foundation all along the human food chain – preserving trust should be an imperative for every player. There is heightened interest in food safety issues on the part of consumers and their advocates as well as government officials at the federal, state and local levels.

Our nation has indeed made great progress in identifying harmful food production technologies, ramping up safety procedures, and adopting rules and regulations to promote safer methods of handling and preparing foods.

However, as recent incidents indicate, more needs to be done. Food Safety is all about Accountability – and Trust.  The AC Hot Topic – Food Safety section is designed to present timely and useful news and information, a range of commentary, and reports on research on food safety topics. Here are some recent excerpts which we think you will find of interest taken from this special Hot Topic Section:

FDA halts orange juice imports over fungicide concern
(Source: USA Today) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it has halted all imported orange juice and will destroy or ban foreign shipments if an unapproved fungicide is detected. Late last month, the FDA reported that trace amounts of the fungicide carbendazim had been found in orange juice products that contained juice from Brazil, which has approved the chemical. Though approved and used as a fungicide on apples and other produce, carbendazim is not approved for use on citrus in the United States.

Tainted juice episode calls FDA capabilities into question
(Source: USA Today)  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. Some critics claim that this episode raises concerns about the ability of the FDA to protect the safety of the U.S. food system.

USDA Plan to Close Hundreds of Offices Raises Safety Concerns
(Source: Fox News) The U.S. Agriculture Department plans to close nearly 260 offices nationwide, a move that won praise for cutting costs -- but raised concerns about the possible effect on food safety. The plan calls for 259 offices, labs and other facilities to be closed, affecting the USDA headquarters in Washington and operations in 46 states. Seven foreign offices also will be shut. The closures were expected to save $60 million.

Report on listeria outbreak blames Jensen Farms and third-party auditors
(Source: Denver Post) A congressional committee's probe of the deadly Colorado listeria outbreak in cantaloupe blames Jensen Farms and a third-party audit system riddled by possible conflicts of interest. Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce urged the FDA to begin overseeing private auditors with new powers granted in 2011 and said the private audit firms "represent a significant gap in the food safety system."

Cantaloupe trade bodies to develop food safety guidance
(Source: Food Production US produce industry associations intend to develop cantaloupe-specific food safety guidelines to combat the fruit’s association with a listeria outbreak that killed dozens of people in 2011. 

Unreported Cases of Food Poisoning Reflect a Gap in Food Supply Safety Net
(Source: The New York Times)In what appears to be a gap in the food supply safety net, there is no requirement for restaurants in San Francisco to report when their diners are affected by food-borne illnesses even when large numbers of people get sick. Mandatory reporting is not required at the state level either, according to the California Department of Public Health. Under both state and local laws, reporting is required only when restaurant workers become sick.


2011 Flashback
Food safety issues made big headlines last year too. In an October 24th alert, we wrote about a Home Grown Crisis: "Over the past decade, we’ve seen more than our share of operational mistakes, product recalls and food safety warnings. Many of them have created crisis conditions for companies, both here and abroad. We like to think that the inspections and safeguards built into our domestic operation and production cycles reduce the probability of such events happening here in the US. However, that is not always the case, as we have been vividly reminded by the recent, deadly outbreak of listeria." Some of the articles we included in this week's alert strongly imply that there will be more ramifications to come from the 2011 listeria outbreak.

The objective of our Hot Topic Focus on Food Safety is to improve and expand public dialogue on this vital issue while also contributing to the goal of safer food sources, processing and monitoring for all citizens.  As always, we are interested in your comments on this important topic. Send your comments to

This is just a sampling of the information in our Alert. Go here for the full text of this alert, and more information on Sustainability, and other Accountability related topics.