'Evening News' Spouts Old Attack on Bottled Water, Endorses Regulation

     Perhaps the network did it for old times’ sake. The September 10 “CBS Evening News” decided to recycle the media’s attack on bottled water.


     Having already attacked bottled water for the alleged environmental impact caused by its packaging, the “Evening News” joined lawmakers calling for testing the water itself. The segment aired the same day a Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the quality and environmental impact of bottled water.


     “The marketing campaigns say it all – bottled water is a pure healthy choice for consumers and millions of Americans are swallowing that message,” CBS correspondent Thalia Assuras said. “Despite research showing that almost 40 percent of bottle water actually comes out of taps, including Pepsi’s Aquafina, Coke’s Dasani and Nestle’s Pure-Life, consumers spent $11 billion last year buying it off the shelves, convinced it’s healthier. Food safety experts say there is no evidence of that.”


     The report began with a commercial for Tulpehocken, a brand of bottled water based in Pennsylvania, and proceeded to accuse major brands like Aquafina of misleading consumers by using public water sources.


     But according to its Web site, Tulpehocken is bottled from three Pennsylvania springs. “Our water is different from companies that just filter and repackage tap water,” the company says on its Web site. “Since our licensing in 1924, Tulpehocken Spring Water has come from under the Earth to ensure the purity of your water.”


     CBS wasn’t breaking new ground. All three broadcast networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – complained about bottled water coming from taps in July 2007. Reporters criticized PepsiCo when it changed its labels to clarify the water comes from a public water source, suggesting it had previously tried to deceive consumers.


     Still, CBS’s Assuras found “food safety experts” at the anti-business group Food & Water Watch to criticize the industry and call for more regulation. The group, founded in 2005, opposes corporate involvement in food production.


     Wenonah Hauter, the group’s executive director, called bottle water “a scam.” “It’s a ripoff. Tap water is safer. It’s required to be tested more often and bottled water companies never have to test their water after bottling and storage. You don’t really know what you’re getting,” Hauter said.


     “Blame the regulatory system,” Assuras said. “This tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires thousands of tests annually for contaminants. What’s in here [bottled water] is monitored by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). But the FDA has no specific bottled water program and no inspectors assigned solely to testing.”


     Tulpehocken, the company whose ad was featured in the segment, said on its Web site that it’s non-tap water is tested “when it comes into the plant and for consistency several times per hour at every stage of the bottling process.” Regulations aren’t holding the company back. “We continuously test our water for much more than is required by EPA and FDA regulations,” it said.


     But if Assuras’ earlier point – that 40 percent of bottled water comes from tap water – is true, then at least 40 percent of bottled water already faces EPA scrutiny. And she didn’t mention that bottled “tap water” like PepsiCo’s Aquafina, is purified before bottling.


     Assuras also misinterpreted why some people drink bottled water. Some consumers favor bottled water over other beverage choices like soft drinks because it is healthier. Others prefer bottled water instead of tap water because of the convenience.


     CBS didn’t include any representatives of the bottled water industry in the report. Instead, Assuras criticized executives for not offering any “apologies” during the Senate hearing – as if they had something to apologize for.


     In an April 2007 press release, International Bottled Water Association Vice President Stephen R. Kay said “consumers are choosing bottled water as a refreshing, hydrating beverage and as an alternative to others that may contain calories, caffeine, sugar, artificial colors, alcohol or other ingredients, which they wish to moderate or avoid.

     Bottled water has repeatedly faced scrutiny from the media. Last year, ABC’s “World News with Charles Gibson” attacked bottled water on consecutive broadcasts for environmental reasons. And even tap water wasn’t safe enough for the broadcast networks. All three warned of traces of pharmaceuticals in tap water in March 2008 reports