Coke, Pepsi attempt to ease juice fears

Coca-Cola Co. said Thursday it has been contacted by a "relatively small number" of consumers with questions about an unapproved fungicide the company reported finding in some of its orange juice sold in the US.

"We've received a relatively small number of calls," Coke spokesman Dan Schafer said.

Coke confirmed Wednesday that it had found the fungicide in orange juice made by Coke and its competitors, and alerted federal regulators that some Brazilian growers had sprayed trees with the substance, which is legal in Brazil but not approved for use in the US.

Coke and PepsiCo Inc. are the biggest marketers of orange juice in the US, holding a combined 59 percent share of orange juice sales in US supermarkets in the first nine months of 2011, according to Beverage Digest, an industry publication and data service.

Coke, whose Simply Orange and Minute Maid brands contain some orange juice from Brazil, has told callers there is no safety concern with its products, Schafer said, citing a government assessment that found carbendazim, the fungicide, at low levels that don't pose a risk.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is testing orange juice sold in supermarkets for the potentially harmful fungicide.

"Consumers are satisfied when they hear us say there is no safety issue with the Brazilian juice we use in our products and that we're working closely with and taking guidance from the FDA," Schafer said.

Coke, which alerted the FDA Dec. 28, is also testing its products. "We routinely test our incoming ingredients and the testing continues," Schafer said. He didn't disclose whether the company had found further evidence of the fungicide since reporting it to the FDA.

A spokesman for PepsiCo, maker of Tropicana juice that also contains Brazilian juice, didn't respond to requests Thursday seeking comment about whether it has tested for or found the fungicide. On Wednesday, the company declined to comment on whether it had found the fungicide, but said, "We take this matter seriously and will follow the FDA's guidance."

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