SA bottled water now regulated

From this week, for the first time, South African bottled water will be officially regulated and monitored by the Department of Health.

Until now, bottled water in this country has been regulated according to the general safety and quality criteria governing the production of food.

Following representation and recommendations from the South African Natural Bottled Water Association (SANBWA), the Department of Health drew up new legislation specific to the bottled water industry. The legislation is based on United Nations and World Health Organisation standards.

Three classes of bottled water

According to the new legislation, there are now three classes of bottled water in South Africa:

  1. Natural water, sourced from an underground aquifer and bottled at source. The emphasis here is on ‘natural’ and so no treatment of the water is allowed. The composition of the bottled water is therefore identical to that of the source water. Natural mineral water and natural spring water fall into this class.
  2. Waters defined by origin, including rain, glacier, mist, and spring water. As a general rule these do require antimicrobial treatments, but no treatments are allowed that would alter the chemical composition of the water.
  3. Prepared water, including municipal, surface or ground water that has been purified by treatments that change the chemical composition of the water. In the case of municipal water, for instance, previously added chemicals such as fluoride are removed and minerals are added.

South Africa’s new bottled water legislation stipulates what sources of water are acceptable, what types of treatment are required, the maximum levels of certain substances, and what information bottlers must display on their labels.

According to John Weaver, chairman of SANBWA and a consulting hydrogeologist, the new labels must, for instance, state the class of the water prominently on the label. The physical address of the source should also be included and ingredients should be listed in a specific order, making it easy for the consumer to compare different brands.

"It's all about making the labels consumer-friendly," Weaver says.

Consumers need to bear in mind that bottles currently on shop shelves will still have the old-style labels on them and that it may be several months before bottlers are able to get their newly labeled stock on to the shelves.

Consumer queries can be directed to SANBWA at 011 884 5916 or sanbwa_cg@worldonline.co.za.

- (SANBWA, July 2007)

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