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Bottled water scare story stirs concerns

By Chen Tian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-3 0:18:01

Consumers were again shocked by a news report on Thursday saying that the quality of China's bottled water is likely to be less pure than tap water, but experts said the report's conclusions are wrong and have caused unnecessary worries.

The Beijing News report said tap water has to meet 106 national standards before it is considered fit for human consumption, while bottled water only needs to meet some 20 requirements.

The report is a follow-up to recent critical stories that center on one of the country's biggest bottled water manufacturers, Nongfu Spring. It has been under fire after it was revealed that one of its bottling plants was located near a dump and its best-selling product had bypassed regulations on hygiene.

The newspaper's report has again stirred social media users who harshly criticized China's food safety agencies and "anything-for-profit" companies.

Dong Jinshi, secretary-general of the International Food Packaging Association, told the Global Times, however, that tap water is not safer than bottled water even it meets higher standards. "Tap water goes through a disinfection process that produces toxic chemicals, so it needs more tests and has to meet more requirements."

China has four sets of national standards for bottled water and local authorities can also set their own standard, the newspaper said, adding that the lack of an overarching standard has caused confusion among producers and their customers. For example, while tap water standards prohibit the existence of coliform bacteria, bottled water is permitted to have trace amounts.

The separate standards for bottled water are necessary because "they respectively cover mineral water, spring water, pure water and natural drinking water," Dong Jinshi said.

Chen Junshi, a researcher at the National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety under the Chinese Center for Disease Control, told the Global Times that local authorities set their own standards because national standards do not cover all types of water.

The State Council in August ordered an overhaul of the country's food safety standards, and Chen believes unified national standards ensuring bottled water quality will be in place by 2015.

Dong Liangjie, co-founder of the Beijing-based MicroCeramics Environmental, which promotes and studies drinking water purification technologies, told the Global Times that tap water could be cleaner after being boiled or purified, since bacteria are less likely to form in running water.

"Bottled water is stagnant and in a closed environment," Dong Liangjie said. "Once bacteria start to form inside the bottle they can reproduce very quickly."

Dong Jinshi said the government's current bottled water standards are sufficient, but producers need to more actively disclose whether their products meet the standards.

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