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Senate Democrats Block Florida Orange Juice Bill
Without explanation, Senate Democrats blocked a bill by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to modernize an outdated regulation and protect Florida citrus growers and processors. Florida’s citrus industry faces extinction without this simple reform.
- “I hope we can get a hearing and we can get this passed, because I’m not sure if a couple of years from now we’re going to have a citrus industry.” — Senator Rubio
The Defending Domestic Orange Juice Production Act (S. 4394), first introduced by Rubio and cosponsored by Senators Rick Scott (R-FL) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA), also has broad bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The legislation would direct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower the required level of sugar/solids content (brix standard) in not-from-concentrate pasteurized orange juice from 10.5 percent weight of orange juice soluble solids to 10 percent.
U.S. Representatives Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Kat Cammack (R-FL), Daniel Webster (R-FL), María Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Al Lawson (D-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), John Rutherford (R-FL), Gregory Steube (R-FL), Scott Franklin (R-FL), Carlos Giménez (R-FL), Charlie Crist (D-FL), and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) introduced companion legislation (H.R. 8054).
Want more? Watch the video, read the original release, and see the text of the speech below.
About 60 years ago, the FDA created a standard for what they consider pasteurized orange juice and for orange juice to be marked with the stamp that says “pasteurized.” No less than 10.5% of the weight of the juice has to be accounted for by soluble solids such as naturally occurring sugar.
This is just an arbitrary number, by the way. The 10.5% of the weight has nothing to do with the nutrition, has nothing to do with the safety, has nothing to do with the quality. It’s just [that] they had to come up with a number to define the difference between orange juice and something that’s not orange juice. And that was the number they came up with.
And so for decades, the citrus industry in Florida has been following that specification, and it hasn’t been a problem. And then Florida was impacted by this thing called citrus greening, pests that came from Asia, particularly from China. And what it’s done is it’s ravaged the trees….
One of the impacts it has is that now the sugar content—you wouldn’t notice it if you drink it or you eat one—but the sugar content of the fruit that’s now on those trees, because of the greening, often falls under the 10.5. Again, no one would know. It’s not any less safe, it’s not any less nutritious. It just falls under that number.
And then obviously the hurricane we had in  made those problems even worse, when [we] suffered the loss of a bunch of trees. And so now to meet this arbitrary 10.5% threshold, the juice processors in Florida have to now blend in…oranges and orange juice that have higher sugar content. And they usually have to import it from a foreign source.
Again, there’s no health benefit to doing that. In fact, you could probably argue that less sugar is probably better. You wouldn’t taste the difference, you wouldn’t know it. [If I] put two glasses of orange juice in front of you, one with…10% and the other one with 10.5, you wouldn’t notice the difference.
So…[the orange juice producers] have been asking the FDA to change the standard so they don’t have to import a bunch of oranges from Brazil and mix it just to be able to hit the sugar content.
And if they can’t do it, then the only thing that changes is that the final product can’t be marketed as Florida orange juice. And that’s really the challenge that we’re facing here.
We would love for this to go through a normal process. The problem is by the time the FDA makes a decision on it, there may not be any growers left. And let me explain why that is a problem.
These citrus growers sit on valuable land. Every developer in the state is trying to get their hands on that land. They’d love to develop it into a mall [or] into an industrial park. We’re facing those problems everywhere.
Once you turn farmland into a commercial use, an industrial use, a housing development, you never get it back. I’ve seen farms turned into commercial development—I’ve never seen a commercial development be turned back to a farm.
Once we lose this land, we lose it forever. We lose it forever.
So not only is it important to have it from a food security standpoint, but from an environmental standpoint, having something remain in agriculture, where the people who own it care deeply about the quality of the land and the water usage because it’s key to their existence, is a better use of the land than once you turn it into an industrial park.
But eventually these agricultural owners have to do something. Some of them have been in the business for generations. But at some point they cannot grow enough fruit to justify continuing in business. They’ve got people offering millions and millions of dollars to buy their land from them.
And so this simple bill that I filed would provide certainty to these orange growers that by lowering the [percent weight of orange juice soluble solids from]10.5 to 10.0—that’s all it does, from 10.5 to 10.0—they will have some level of certainty that they’ll be able to continue in business.
So I regret that there’s an objection here today. I understand the desire to follow the FDA process, but I just want to be clear, no one is arguing…that going from 10.5 to 10.0 has any safety issue or anything of that nature. It’s literally an undetectable difference, but it would make a big difference for citrus growers in Florida.
If we’re not going to be able to do it this way, I hope we can get a hearing and we can get this passed, because I’m not sure if a couple of years from now we’re going to have a citrus industry. And if we lose them, we’ll lose that land and we’ll never get it back.