FAMA 2018

FDA reversed its position on Nestlé bottled water, documents show

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Credits: photo - Jay Calderon and Richard Lui/The Desert Sun

FDA reversed its position on Nestlé bottled water, documents show

The federal government has strict rules about water that can be bottled and sold as “spring water,” and regulators recently changed their position on whether the water that Nestlé pipes out of the San Bernardino National Forest meets those requirements. 

Newly released documents show the national forest’s top official asked the Food and Drug Administration to help look into complaints by several people who accused the company of violating federal regulations by bottling groundwater rather than spring water.

The documents show the FDA initially told the Forest Service that some of the water sources used by Nestlé in the San Bernardino Mountains may not meet the federal definition of “spring water.” Several months later, however, an official at the agency came to an entirely different conclusion and backed Nestlé after the company – which was represented by a former FDA regulator – forcefully made its case.

Two environmental groups, the Story of Stuff Project and the Courage Campaign, say the FDA wrongly reversed itself. They’re calling for the agency to carry out a thorough review to determine whether water drawn from the forest can legally be sold as Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water.  

“We think they need to reopen the investigation,” said Michael O’Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff Project. “We believe that the FDA fell for a phony argument from Nestlé’s attorney hook, line and sinker.”

He pointed out that Nestlé’s lawyer, Joseph Levitt, contacted his former colleagues at the FDA and within three weeks had secured a reversal of the agency’s position. O’Heaney said the agency “took Nestlé at its word” and didn’t conduct a careful review. 

“Our concern is making sure that enough due diligence is done by the FDA,” he said, “to not just take Nestlé’s word for it but to determine: Is this really spring water?”

O’Heaney and Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the Courage Campaign, wrote to the FDA last week detailing their objections and asking the agency to reopen the review. 

The two groups obtained dozens of pages of letters and emails from the agency after suing over an unfulfilled request under the Freedom of Information Act, and they provided the documents to The Desert Sun.

The correspondence began with a letter from Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron on Dec. 19, 2016, to William Correll, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. 

“The Forest Service is requesting assistance with a public issue raised in association with a bottled water source located on the San Bernardino National Forest,” Noiron wrote. She said several people had complained that Arrowhead brand bottled water “is not in compliance” with the FDA regulations and that “the water sold as spring water is in fact groundwater from bore holes.”

To collect the water, Nestlé uses a system of 10 gravity-fed boreholes and two water tunnels drilled deep into the mountainside. The water flows into stainless steel pipes that run down the mountainside to a roadside tank, where the water is loaded onto trucks to be hauled to a bottling plant. 

Under federal regulations, the FDA defines spring water as water that “flows naturally to the surface of the earth.” The water may be collected at a spring or through a borehole tapping the underground source that feeds the spring. 

Among other things, the regulations say: “There shall be a natural force causing the water to flow to the surface through a natural orifice. The location of the spring shall be identified.”

Activists who oppose Nestlé’s operation in the mountains near San Bernardino say they haven’t seen any natural springs around the company’s bunker-like water collection structures.

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Source: Desert Sun


The Alternative World Water Forum will take place on March 17 – 22th 2018 in Brasilia – Brazil -, at the University of Brasilia’s campus.

It is a democratic event aiming to gather organisations and social movements from all over the world that struggle in defence of water as an elementary right to life.

See here manifesto below.
Click here to see the entities that make up the National Coordination of FAMA (in Brazil)