In compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments, the Food and Drug Administration has published a draft study report on the feasibility of several methods of informing customers of the contents of bottled water. The report was the product of input gathered from all segments of the general population, including trade associations, consumers, consumer advocacy groups, industries and educational institutions.
FDA's inquiry was concerned specifically with information on contaminant levels in bottled water that would be analogous to the annual consumer confidence report (CCR) required of community water systems under the SDWA. The CCR contains extensive material about the level of contaminants found in community water systems.
Some of the proposed methods included printing the requisite information on the label, distributing the information via point-of-purchase pamphlets and requiring the manufacturer to provide contact information on the label for interested parties.
The report found providing information on the labels to be an undue economic burden on the manufacturer since the variable nature of the information would necessitate frequent label changes. The costs of changing a label in this industry are estimated to be between $2,200 and $24,000. Furthermore, if the change in contaminant levels outpaced the labels, the product could be considered in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The prospect of point-of-sale pamphlets was found to be similarly cumbersome because the information in the pamphlet would be subject to the same frequent changes. Point-of-sale materials also pose significant logistical problems for retailers when it comes to making space for the literature.
According to the report, encouraging manufacturers to include telephone numbers and mailing addresses on the labels is deemed the most cost-effective way in which to educate consumers about the contents of their bottled water. Many manufacturers already furnish their products with this information, and the cost to those who do not currently do so would be negligible.
Tim Hammonds, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C., agreed with the FDA's appraisal of the proposed plans. He also expressed concern over the possibility that consumers could become confused with such copious amounts of information.
"This is not like a nutrition label on a standard grocery product. You're going to be giving the consumer information on contaminants and they will have no context for it. Information is only useful to consumers if they have some context for it," Hammonds said. "The number one priority is that the agency makes sure that the product is safe when it reaches the shelves," he added.