Will Congress hasten the end of the bottled water ride?

Articles
July 20, 2009

Will Congress hasten the end of the bottled water ride?

For so many bottled water drinkers, health and safety are the primary motivators and convenience is a lesser appeal. Would demand fall if public confidence in the regulatory oversight of the sector were shattered? Or if rounds of new testing being discussed were to show that bottled water sources are less than the pristine images consumers might have in their minds? We believe not only that this would happen, but that it could likely happen with Congress beginning to look into the sources and treatment—and therefore the integrity—of many dozens of bottled waters sold in the United States. The long, fun ride of bottled waters may be nearing an end with the convergence of several trends, we believe at SupermarketGuru.com: - First, the nation’s mounting concern over food safety. - Second, consumers’ need to save money (Why pay when tap water is practically free?). - Third, growth of the sustainability movement (Might the plastic bottles become as unfashionable today as they were desirable accessories not too long ago?). - Fourth, new reports that raise questions about the good-for-you image of bottled waters. Both the Government Accountability Office and the non-profit Environmental Working Group issued reports that point to the possible need for further regulation of bottled waters.

For so many bottled water drinkers, health and safety are the primary motivators and convenience is a lesser appeal. Would demand fall if public confidence in the regulatory oversight of the sector were shattered? Or if rounds of new testing being discussed were to show that bottled water sources are less than the pristine images consumers might have in their minds?

We believe not only that this would happen, but that it could likely happen with Congress beginning to look into the sources and treatment—and therefore the integrity—of many dozens of bottled waters sold in the United States.

The long, fun ride of bottled waters may be nearing an end with the convergence of several trends, we believe at SupermarketGuru.com:
- First, the nation’s mounting concern over food safety.
- Second, consumers’ need to save money (Why pay when tap water is practically free?).
- Third, growth of the sustainability movement (Might the plastic bottles become as unfashionable today as they were desirable accessories not too long ago?).
- Fourth, new reports that raise questions about the good-for-you image of bottled waters.

Both the Government Accountability Office and the non-profit Environmental Working Group issued reports that point to the possible need for further regulation of bottled waters.

“Neither the public nor federal regulators know nearly enough about where bottled water comes from and what safeguards are in place to ensure its safety. The majority of consumers purchase bottled water because of perceived health and safety benefits, but they actually know very little about the quality of the water they are buying,” said Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), chairman of the oversight committee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reported The New York Times. 

Right now the water we drink passes through two different worlds of regulation. On one hand, municipal water systems that give us tap water issue annual reports naming their water sources, the contaminants found in testing by certified laboratories, and their potential effects on health. They must also notify customers within a day of contaminants that exceed federal standards.  By contrast, bottled waters have no such requirements, according to the Times.

However, as SupermarketGuru.com reported last month, the FDA has mandated that as of December 1, bottled water manufacturers will be forced to test source water for germs each week, as they already need to do for finished products.  If E.coli shows up, the manufacturer must eliminate the bacteria, explain their elimination process in writing, and then retest the water. 

Neither we nor the FDA are saying or implying that bottled water is unsafe. It’s just that with today’s economic and environmental concerns, the concept just doesn’t seem as smart or relevant as it once did. We feel that if bottled water brands don’t sail through any newly required tests with flying colors, a tarnished image could have people second-guessing their purchases.