Australia’s bottled water representative body wants local producers and sellers to adopt the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for chemicals in bottled water.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has received an application from the Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) to adopt limits to the amount of chemicals, as set out In WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality.
The ABWI said the move would benefit the packaged water industry and bring Australia and new Zealand onto the same international playing field.
“This application will reassure consumers that chemical constituents in packaged water are regulated on a mandatory level to the same levels as those set internationally,” the submission said.
“The inclusion of such limits will also enhance the ability of the industry to compete in export markets overseas.
If the changes were to be adopted in Australia, there would be six times more mercury allowed in bottles water sold in Australia.
Arsenic and lead levels accepted would drop significantly though, and organic matter would be less acceptable.
Dr Chris Schyzens, Senior toxocoligst and risk manager at FSANZ told Food Magazine the changes would put the Australian industry at the same level as other developed countries.
“Very simply, currently we have 17 chemical analysed in the standard, WHO’s limits has 90, so there is a large increase in chemical detections required.
“Having 90 tested as opposed to 17, from talking to industry, and they are the applicants, they’ve said that their voluntary code, the model code, already follows WHO guidelines, and they’re testing about 49 chemicals.”
Ben Dutton, general manager of brand marketing at Noble Beverages, which captures and distributes H2O water brand, told Food Magazine that tightening the code will not make any difference to companies doing the right thing.
“Consider the landscape three or four years ago, the industry was almost non-existent compare to now.
“The point is that we do have some smaller bottled water companies that might not be taking quality control as seriously as they should be so if WHO standards makes these operators lift their game, that’s a good thing for food consumers.
“Maybe, and only maybe operators that are drawing tap water off, putting it though filters and bottling it, would have problem if they had to ensure they met these standards.
“If it means these companies have to life their game, overall it is good thing.”
“We’ve seen over the last four years or so that it has been a race to bottom as far as price is concerned and most manufacturers are cutting prices dramatically to maintain their place in the market and smaller companies have felt a lot of pain.
As to whether the adoption of WHO standards would improve the waters that are imported to Australia, Dutton was cautiously optimistic.
“I don’t know, I do know [Australia is] importing water from Indonesia and Malaysia and certainly we have mineral water imported from Europe and the US, but I would be inclined to see most bottled water imported would be regulated.
“The challenge in Australia is that even though the bottles water industry has gone through a huge period of consolidation over the last three years, we have this situation now where a lot of small operators have gone out of business or been bought by major companies.”
Schyzens agrees that the huge increase in the bottled water market in Australia has led to some smaller, dodgy companies creeping into the sector, but for the most part, Australian water companies are all doing the right thing and just want to ensure the industry is regulated.
“I think that’s the intention and this has been a call from the industry body the industry are the ones who have come to us and said ‘here’s a set of values we think would be good for water and that gives consumers peace of mind’”.
“They are the ones who want this, because they already highly regulate themselves, so they want to ensure everyone else is doing the same.
Dutton told Food Magazine that for the companies doing the right thing, which most of them are, there is nothing to be concerned about if the WHO standards are introduced.
“In the Australian industry, there are a lot that are already testing to quite high specifications, whether that’s because they’re trying to get into supermarkets or retailers, they have so many reasons, including the safety of consumers, to do so.
“One New Zealand company is trying to enter the New York market, for example, and their specifications are incredibly high.
While Dutton and Schyzens both agree on the vast majority of the potential new guidelines, there is one issue where their opinions differ.
FSANZ wants to accept all the chemical standards except for the fluoride standard, which it wants to maintain at the current Australian level.
“There’s probably two main reasons for that, and it is important to note that the [WHO)] document allows for nations to make a call based on local consumption of fluoride so we’re not ignoring WHO advice.
“In 2009, after a lot of research and consultation, we determined the maximum should be 1.0 milligrams per litre, which is the same as one part per million.
“So we thought if you have fluoride in packaged water, fluoride is fluoride, wether it’s naturally occurring or added.
“Everyone should be confident standard is at 1.0.”
Dutton explained Noble’s stance on fluoride is about offering consumers choice.
“Our brand is a 100 per cent fluoride free brand and the reason we remove it is because we believe people should have a choice whether they drink fluoride or not.
“People don’t have a choice with government water, but we believe naturally occurring fluoride, not added fluoride, should be the only kind.
“Mass medication is an interesting exercise, but when you deploy mass medication through water, people don’t have a choice as to whether they take the medication or not and there are a million and one studies done into this and the way you look at them can support or disagree with fluoride.
“FSANZ has already allowed bottled water companies to add fluoride but I don’t believe any brand has gone ahead and done that.
“Which makes sense, because consumer are buying it because they don’t want added fluoride, however, naturally it can occur in some streams.”
Schyzens did assure, however, that FSANZ would not be implementing minimum fluoride standards, only a cap on the maximum allowed.
“Added fluoride is just for dental reasons, and is such an incredible public health utility, whilst at same time, we recognise some people are strictly opposed to it, and we’re not saying people have to add fluoride to water, just that they can’t go over one part per million.”
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