TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida’s U.S. Senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, introduced legislation aimed at changing how the orange juice industry produces its juice. The bill, titled the “Defending Domestic Orange Juice Production Act,” would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to change standards for sugar content in juice and prioritize using American-produced fruit to make juice products.
The bill has received bipartisan support from the Florida Congressional delegation, with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) introducing the version of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As written, according to its sponsors, the legislation will require the FDA to “lower the required level of sugar/solids,” called brix, “in not from concentrate pasteurized orange juice.”
The percentage would be decreased from 10.5% required to 10%, changing the “weight of orange juice soluble solids.” Florida lawmakers in Washington have said the bill would help Florida citrus growers retain the flexibility needed to address crop disease and difficulties by severe weather.
“Forcing the orange juice industry to import and mix juice from foreign oranges to meet an arbitrary FDA standard would mean the end of Florida orange juice,” Rubio said. “This common sense bill will provide relief to Florida citrus growers and processors who have faced challenges in recent years due to disease and hurricanes, and allow them to continue marketing Florida orange juice.”
Statements about the legislation across the political aisle agree that the legislation would protect Florida’s citrus industry, which has faced trouble recently due to changing weather conditions and a lower production level than in years past.
“Florida grows the best oranges, but pests, diseases, and extreme weather are ravaging Florida’s citrus growers and processors. These conditions resulted in a natural decline in Brix levels in our mature oranges. For most of last season, Florida oranges did not meet the federal minimum standard of 10.5 degrees Brix, a standard adopted decades ago, at a time when climate change was mostly unknown,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said. “Despite the natural changes to Brix levels, there are no known adverse health consequences for consumers. This bill would provide Florida citrus growers and processors with needed flexibility so that they can continue to produce the world’s best oranges—without sacrificing the quality and taste that we all love.”
The latest citrus forecast published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed production levels were at their lowest volume since World War II. The forecast in June matched predictions made in January about the level being historically low, in relation to the World War II volume, though the actual amount of boxes was higher than expected.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried released a statement on June 10 after the USDA released its June citrus forecast. She said while the crop was lower, the number of Florida oranges produced was higher than the previous forecast had predicted. Orange production increased by 500,000 boxes, which each contain about 90 oranges per box.
Rubio and Scott’s legislation, an example of bipartisan efforts to improve circumstances for Florida’s citrus farmers, with U.S. Representatives Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Schultz (D-Fla.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Kat Cammack (R-Fla.), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Al Lawson (D-Fla.), Bill Posey (R-Fla.), John Rutherford (R-Fla.), Gregory Steube (R-Fla.), Scott Franklin (R-Fla.), Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), and Buchanan (R-Fla.), all taking part in supporting the legislation.
“Florida’s citrus growers work incredibly hard to make sure American families can drink delicious, fresh from Florida orange juice,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, growers across our state have faced hardship in recent years due to crop disease and severe weather. I’m proud to join Senator Rubio to introduce legislation which thoughtfully amends citrus standards, keeps healthy Florida orange juice on the shelves and supports the needs of our citrus growers.”
As previously reported, Florida’s orange crops have been on a decline for over 20 years due to bacterial threats and other diseases impacting the state’s orange groves, called citrus greening, according to the Florida Department of Citrus, a separate agency from the FDACS.
The current citrus season is expected to end in July.