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Brazil citrus depends on U.S.-banned fungicide -experts

* Carbendazim key in fight against black spot -researcher
* Carbendazim cheapest of locally used citrus fungicides
* Brazil industry talking to FDA to avert loss of market

By Peter Murphy

BRASILIA, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Brazil, the world's top orange juice exporter, will continue to depend on a fungicide that is banned in the United States even though its use jeopardizes exports to the U.S. market, a researcher and a producer said on Thursday.

The chemical carbendazim is vital to combat the fast-spreading fungal disease black spot in Brazilian citrus groves, as it is one of only a handful of effective chemicals that are applied to the plants on a rotating basis, said Geraldo Jose da Silva, a fungal disease researcher at Fundecitrus.

New York citrus futures soared 11 percent to record highs this week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would test all orange juice shipped to the United States for the fungicide and would bar imports with any detectable level.

Futures prices have since retreated, but the issue remains unresolved.

Lawyers for Brazil's juice industry, which exports more than $2 billion worth globally each year, are talking to U.S. officials to try to come up with a solution.

A ban on juice containing the chemical -- which Brazil's industry says is present in almost all its juice but at only a fraction of levels considered harmful -- would cut the United States off from the supplier of one tenth of its orange concentrate.

The chemical is one of three main types of fungicide used to combat black spot, which has existed in Brazil since the 1980s but has spread at an alarming rate in the last few years. The disease causes developing fruit to drop from the branches.

"As there are few molecules available, if we stop using one, we will have to use other kinds more and that will reduce their effectiveness by increasing the resistance of the fungus," said researcher da Silva.

Sao Paulo-based Fundecitrus is an industry-funded research center seeking cures and disease-resistant plants to combat the multitude of fungi, bacteria and pests that prey on citrus in the tropical southeast of Brazil where most oranges grow.

Flavio Viegas, head of Brazil's orange farmers association Associtrus, said the hallmark black stains on the fruit's skin are common on whole fruit sold in Brazil. Some infected oranges can survive on the branch until they ripen and can still be crushed since the disease does not affect the flesh and juice underneath, he added.

Viegas said that in addition to the need to rotate a variety of chemicals to avoid resistance, carbendazim is also the cheapest of the three main chemical types used to combat black spot.

He said carbendazim costs only a quarter of the price of the most expensive treatment and about a third of the price of others in the copper-based category, helping lower the overall cost of the mix of chemicals rotated over four annual applications.

"If you don't control (black spot), you can lose your harvest," Viegas said.


(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and
Josephine Mason in New York; editing by Andrea Evans)
((Peter.Murphy@thomsonreuters.com)(+55 61 3426 7025))

Peter Murphy
Correspondent
22:08 12Jan12

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