Testing by a local consumer group has found elevated levels of arsenic in Mott’s apple juice, renewing calls by a food safety group for tighter standards on imported foods.
The Rochester-based Empire State Consumer Project arranged for laboratory analysis of five brands each of apple juice and apple sauce, including Wegmans brands.
No arsenic was detected in any of the samples except for Mott’s juice — but it contained more than five times the level of arsenic allowed in drinking water.
Judy Braiman, head of the consumer project, said Mott’s, like some other juice makers, uses apple concentrate from China in its products. Arsenic-based pesticides, no longer applied to apples in this country, are still used in Chinese orchards, she said, and the toxic metal can find its way into apple products.
Coincidentally, a spokeswoman for Wegmans Food Markets Inc. said Thursday the company has phased out use of Chinese concentrate in its house brand of apple sauce and apple juice.
“We recognize that for consumers and for us, some countries pose more of a concern than others in terms of their food safety system. One such country is China,” Jo Natale said. “It’s not because that we ourselves have experienced a problem. It is because there are concerns.”
Natale said the decision to change to new sources was made before the consumer group did its testing. Labels are being changed now to reflect the current sources of apple concentrate, Argentina and Chile.
The company is still working on non-China sources for Wegmans-brand canned mandarin oranges and mushrooms.
The Empire consumer group’s findings are consistent with testing of nine boxed apple juices last year by the St. Petersburg Times newspaper, which found Mott’s to have the highest arsenic levels.
Mott’s has a major apple sauce, apple juice and apple concentration plant in Williamson, Wayne County.
The Times’ testing found 35 parts per billion of arsenic in Mott’s juice. Braiman’s testing found 55 ppb.
The drinking water standard for arsenic is 10 ppb. But the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has not set standards for arsenic in juice. An FDA spokeswoman, Stephanie Yao, said more study was needed before arsenic guidelines could be considered.
Food & Water Watch, the Washington, D.C., advocacy group that released Braiman’s findings Thursday, said they underscore the need to more carefully screen and regulate food from overseas, especially China. In a report last year, the group said the FDA inspected only a small fraction of imports.
Chris Barnes, a spokesman for Mott’s parent company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, said the company took food safety seriously and was in compliance with all FDA guidelines. He also said the company had no access to the testing done by the consumer group and could not vouch for its findings.
Barnes said he did not know what amount of Chinese concentrate, if any, was used in the juice that was tested. Braiman said the bottle whose contents were sampled had said the juice might contain concentrate from China or Argentina.
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