Monday, August 28, 2006

Reader Feedback on Bottled Water Release

Tammy Roberts, the University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist in southwest Missouri, wrote a great media release about bottled water this week.

Her main point was that water, whether from a bottle or a public water system, is a great calorie-free beverage choice. Actually, the best choice for nutrition.

Here release drew this comment from Rick Hopkins of Marionville:

Below is a report I generated in February of 2004 after reviewing many facets of the bottled water industry and speaking with agency and municipal employees in regard to the sanitation, sampling, and testing requirements.

You indicate that bottled water is as safe as municipal water and it may well be statistically, but not through regulated means. The bottled water industry is profit driven and cannot afford to risk collapsing a $35+ billion a year industry over a failure in quality. The fundamental argument against bottled water is the huge drain on petroleum it causes in packaging and transportation. There are issues with contaminants leaching into the water from the plastics used in packaging, especially if left in a hot vehicle or in the sun.

Labeling is another point of concern as water gets as misleading as any food product. The FDA's definition of "bottled at the spring" doesn't mean putting the water in the actual consumer container. It means putting it in a suitably vented tank truck for hauling to a bottling plant. The list goes on and on with the misleading marketing information on bottled water labels.

Message In a Bottle, Brian Howard, E-The Environmental Magazine, September/October 2003, Volume XIV, Number 5.(1)

Brian Howard exposes the power of advertising and labeling while covering the environmental impacts of the bottled water industry. Howard reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required wording on bottled water labels amounts to including the manufacturer's name, the volume, and whether the source is from a spring or mineral water(1).

The worldwide bottled water industry amounts to a $35 billion (US) a year business while consuming 6 billion gallons of fresh water and 1.5 billion barrels of crude oil. Bottled water is expected to be the second most popular beverage next to carbonated soft drinks by 2004 with a 11% per year growth in sales. It is no wonder that the two largest soft drink manufacturers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have their own bottled water labels, Dasani and Aquafina respectively. The U.S. sales of bottled water exceed $10,000 a minute at three times the price of gasoline.

Bottled water labels employ the consumer skepticism that municipal water supplies are of inferior quality with claims such as pure, spring fed, glacial-born, and pure. The label message is that "bottled is good - tap is bad". Bottled water consumers believe that drinking bottled water reflects social status and health.

Bottling regulation amounts only to sanitation of the source and the bottling plant and enforcement is usually the result of a consumer complaint. Municipal water supplies are regulated and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bottling operations require annual testing compared to almost continuous sampling by municipalities. Howard reports that New York City municipal water supplies are tested more than 500,000 times a year.

Co-Op America reports that as many as 40% of the bottled water sources originate from municipal water supplies. However the labels symbolize mountain springs, pristine glacial melt, and the bottlers cater to demands for specialty drinks such as spring, mineral, purified, distilled, carbonated, oxygenated, caffeinated, vitamin-enriched, and flavored. Water bars and water sommeliers have appeared in metropolitan areas in Europe and across the U.S. displaying hundreds of bottled water brands.

Tammy concluded by saying, "I did not include information on plastics and the leaching that can occur in the media release. It's hard to know how detailed to get in a short article."

The fact remains though, water is good for you. Drink up.


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