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Food Safety News
July 7th, 2009

GAO Report Reveals Need for Increased FDA Oversight of Bottled Water


Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch (202) 683-2500

GAO Report Reveals Need for Increased FDA Oversight of Bottled Water

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director
Wenonah Hauter

Today, the United States Government Accountability Office released a report to the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce on the quality and safety of bottled water. Entitled Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections are Often Less Stringent Than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water, the report confirms what many in the consumer advocacy community have long known–that the bottled water industry is not subject to the same rigorous standards for testing their product and disclosing the results of that testing to the public that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is for tap water.

As today’s report makes clear, the purity of bottled water is a marketing myth. While bottled water companies play on perceptions of the health effects of their products, the truth is, federal laws to ensure the quality of bottled water are actually extremely lax. While EPA is required to test municipal tap water for coliform and bacteria as much as 480 times a month, water used by the bottled water industry is only required to undergo similar testing once a week. Once bottled, it does not need to be tested at all. Earlier this year, children in California fell ill after drinking bottled water from a vending machine in a junior high cafeteria. While luckily no children were seriously harmed, this incident, combined with the looseness of the laws pertaining to bottled water, represents a profound lack of oversight on the part of FDA to protect consumers from potential health hazards.

Moreover, this report makes clear that discrepancies between EPA’s regulation of tap water and FDA’s regulation of bottled water need to be addressed on the federal level. FDA must be given stronger authority to regulate bottled water, including mandatory recalls of contaminated products. Further, FDA must be give explicit authority to require bottlers to report test results of their products. Water bottlers must also be required to use certified labs for testing their products and they must be required to annually publish the results of those tests on their company Websites. Finally, bottled water companies must be required to include labels on all bottles disclosing the source of the water they’re selling, how and whether it was treated, and whether it contains regulated and unregulated contaminants.

Ultimately, this report reveals an irony about the discrepancies between bottled water and water from the tap. That is, despite the fact that regulations for bottled water are far less stringent than those for tap water, bottled water still costs consumers thousands of times more money than tap water.”

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.