FDA Says It Can't Require Content Labels on Bottled Water
Feb. 22, 2000 (Washington) -- The FDA released Tuesday a draft study stating
that it had no authority to require makers of bottled water to provide on their
labels information about the water's exact contents.
A number of consumers, particularly people with weakened immune systems,
have requested that the date of bottling, the water's mineral profile, the
overall acid level, and the type of treatment it underwent be spelled out on
the labels, Rebecca Buckner, author of the FDA report, tells WebMD.
This information, she adds, could be conveyed by increasing the content of
information on the label and providing a phone number that consumers can call
for further information. However, the FDA currently does not have the
regulatory authority to require these changes, she notes.
The FDA report was mandated by a 1996 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water
Act (SDWA), which required agency officials to study the feasibility of
informing consumers about the contents of bottled water. But these amendments
did not expressly address the FDA's authority to implement these changes. In
fact, the amendments primarily were passed to provide consumers with a
"confidence report" regarding the level of contaminates found in their
public drinking water.
Some of this information already is included in a number of manufacturers'
labels, Stephen Kay, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association
(IBWA), tells WebMD. However, Kay admits, that is not uniformly true for all
manufacturers, including a number of IBWA's members. IBWA is a nonprofit
organization that represents about 85% of the industry.
Currently, FDA regulations simply require that these products be tested for
about 75 different potential contaminates. The industry also does some
self-regulation, such as submitting to spontaneous inspections by an
independent safety monitoring organization, Kay says. But considering that the
industry is so highly regulated, the general feeling is that "new standards
are unnecessary," he adds.
The amendments to the SDWA specifically were written for tap water, he adds.
"There is a label on bottled water, but there is no label for your tap
water," he says. Bottled water is also subject to recall, and consumers
have considerable more choice in terms of bottled waters than tap water, he
The industry might not oppose a proposal to include information such as a
contact number on each product's label. "We would have to look at the
standard, but there probably wouldn't be any major objection," Kay
However, the FDA is more likely to push for a combined approach -- providing
some additional content information on the label and a contact number for more
information -- should it receive the authority to further regulate these
bottlers. The combined approach "is an appropriate and feasible method of
providing customers with information and, in addition, has the benefit of
delivering certain pieces of information to customers at the point of
purchase," the FDA report concludes.
- Some consumers, particularly those with weakened immune systems, want
bottled water companies to provide a product label that lists the water's
mineral content, acid level, and other constituents.
- The FDA says it does not have the authority to require these companies to
supply content information on a label.
- Bottled water companies may soon provide a label that lists a telephone
number that consumers can call for more information.