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Bottled-Water Industry Ready For Tighter Regulations

May 8, 1996

MILESBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Crack open a jug of bottled water and you may think that pure and natural drink comes from a bubbling spring, melting glacier or flowing stream.

But starting next week, new federal labeling standards will go into effect, telling consumers whether the water they’re drinking comes straight from nature or if it’s processed first.

Companies will have to reveal their source of water and will be prohibited from using certain words _ like mountain, mineral and purified _ to describe their products unless they meet certain standards.

``I think the new regulations are a good step in the right direction,″ said Ed Lauth, president of AquaPenn, a bottled-water company based in central Pennsylvania. ``The new labels will open the eyes of the buyers who put bottles on the shelves of grocery stores and convenience stores.″

Under the old rules, inexpensive bottled water found its way onto many store shelves without consumers realizing where it came from. But under regulations passed by the Food and Drug Administration last year bottlers will now have to list the source of the water.

``A store will be reluctant to put a product on the shelves with a label that says `municipal source,‴ Lauth said.

The International Bottled Water Association, along with a number of corporations, drew up the new regulations in order to bring some conformity to the industry and stop companies from deceiving consumers.

In 1995, bottled-water sales reached $3.375 billion, up 8 percent from the year before.

``When a company uses a word like glacier in their label it might be somewhat misleading,″ said Kim Jeffery, president of the Perrier Group of America, the top bottled-water company in the nation. ``The new regulations really insure uniformity in labeling so the consumer knows exactly what is in the bottle.″

While many support the regulations, which go into effect May 13, there has been a mixed reaction within the bottled-water industry.

The National Spring Water Association thinks the regulations don’t go far enough because companies will still be able to call their product spring water if they drill a borehole near a natural spring and bottle the water.

``Spring water comes to the surface of the earth naturally without mechanical means,″ said Bill Lizzio, president of the association. ``Water that is extracted through a borehole should not be called spring water. We felt that was misleading the consumers.″

Others think that more stringent policies should be implemented to establish some quality standards.

``The real danger is from bottled water that has bacteria in it or has dust and cardboard fibers,″ said Lauth of AquaPenn. ``When people buy bottled water that is not up to quality standards, it hurts the trust of the rest of the industry.″

But there are also those within the industry who say the government is interfering too much and overstepping its boundaries.

Alaska Premium Beverage and Bottling Inc. of Kent, Wash., had been selling what the company called Alaska glacier water. Actually, the company’s source was tap water from Sitka, Alaska.

Because of the new regulations, the company has dropped ``glacier″ from the label and changed to a natural source in Alaska.

``In our case, we’re selling the image of Alaska,″ spokesman Mike Shelton said. ``We’re changing our source, but it isn’t any better water. We didn’t want to say `municipal source’ on our label.″

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