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An investigation reveals irregularities in bottled water production in France

  • An investigation reveals irregularities in bottled water production in France
  • An investigation by Le Monde and Radio France revealed that Nestlé and other manufacturers have been applying banned treatments to their bottled water, including microfiltration below 0.8 microns.
  • This discovery initially stemmed from a report of fraud within the Sources Alma group, leading to the revelation of similar practices in other companies.
  • In response to the irregularities, the French government exceptionally authorised Nestlé to practice microfiltration below 0.8 microns.
  • The situation has triggered concerns about regulation and safety in the bottled water industry and has led the organisation Foodwatch to file a complaint of deception.

About the entity

An investigation conducted by Le Monde and the research unit of Radio France has uncovered that several French manufacturers, including Nestlé, have been applying prohibited treatments to their bottled waters. These treatments include microfiltration below 0.8 microns, a practice not allowed by current regulations, and the addition of substances such as iron sulfate and industrial CO2.

The case began with a fraud report within the Sources Alma group, which produces various brands of bottled water in France. The investigation by the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs, and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) revealed that the company was subjecting its mineral waters to treatments that did not conform to regulations, including the mixing of mineral or spring waters with tap water.

In an effort to maintain production at its mineral water factories, Nestlé admitted to the French Ministry of Economy that it had resorted to non-compliant practices because the water sources it used were regularly contaminated. As a result of this, the French government, in an inter-ministerial meeting, granted Nestlé the possibility to authorize, through the modification of decrees, the practice of microfiltration below 0.8 microns.

A subsequent report, prepared by the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (Igas) and sent to the government, found that nearly 30% of bottled water brands did not comply with regulations. In particular, it was highlighted that all Nestlé brands used prohibited treatments, including microfiltration below 0.8 microns and the use of activated carbon and ultraviolet.

Although Nestlé claimed to have removed some of these treatments from its factories, the National Agency for Food Safety (Anses) pointed out that the microfiltration systems maintained by Nestlé did not comply with the regulatory framework.

The scandal has led the consumer advocacy organization Foodwatch to file a complaint for "deception." Additionally, the ARS Grand Est contacted the prosecutor in Epinal, who opened a preliminary investigation for deception under the public health code, while in other regions, such as Occitanie, no legal action was taken despite similar irregularities.

This case highlights significant issues in the regulation and supervision of the bottled water industry, as well as concerns about the safety and quality of the water offered to consumers.

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