Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The bottled water craze

The article below is from a Leftist source so it claims that the bottled water nonsense is an evil corporate plot rather than many people's everlasting superstitiousness about what they put into their mouths -- but it covers the facts pretty well

When Antonia Mahoney moved to Boston from her native Puerto Rico 35 years ago, the first thing she noticed was how much better the water tasted. Over the years, however, the water she was receiving from her tap began to lose its appeal. "Little by little, the taste changed," says the retired schoolteacher, who eventually gave up tap water altogether and began paying over $30 a month to get bottles of Poland Spring water delivered to her house.

Walking through Boston's Copley Square on a sunny day last month, however, she was intrigued by a banner advertising something called the "Tap Water Challenge." As she approached the table, a fresh-faced activist behind it told her the "challenge" was a blind taste test to see if passersby could tell the difference between bottled water and tap water. Mahoney turned her back while four water samples were poured into small paper cups -- two of tap water from Boston and a nearby suburb, and one each of Poland Spring and Aquafina.

"That's tap water," Mahoney declared after draining the first cup. "That tastes just like what I drink at home." Her confidence faded, however, as she downed the next three, which all seemed to taste the same. When the cups were turned over, it turned out that what she thought was tap water was actually Aquafina -- and what she thought was Poland Spring was actually the same Boston tap water she gets at home for free. "I couldn't believe it, I couldn't believe it," she says later. "You know I pay so much for that water. Now I am thinking to stop the Poland Spring."

Mahoney wasn't alone in that decision. A student from Connecticut who attends Massachusetts College of Art says that she has cartons of bottled water stocked in her dorm room, because she doesn't want to chance city tap water. After taking (and flunking) the test, she says now she'll start drinking from the faucet. "It tastes the same as the tap water I drink at home in Connecticut, and I drink that all the time," says the student, Katey vanBerkum. "Why spend your money on bottled water if you don't have to."

The two are among the many who have been converted across the country over the past year by the taste test, which, if not quite as ubitquitous as the Pepsi Challenge, is equally surprising in its results. Of the hundreds of people who have participated in the Tap Water Challenge in cities including Austin, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, few of them were able to identify all the samples correctly, says Gigi Kellett, who is doling out water samples this afternoon. "It's usually those who are the most die-hard or committed to a certain brand who are most surprised when they realize they can't tell the difference," she says.

Kellett is associate campaigns director at Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a nonprofit formerly known as Infact, which is best-known for its relentless crusade against tobacco companies in the 1990s. Now, the group has started a campaign to blow away perceptions that bottled water is somehow better-tasting or purer than good old H2O from the tap. At stake, they say, is the increasing commodification of a resource that should be a basic human right, not a product on sale for $1.50 at the local convenience store.

In the past decade, the bottled water market has more than doubled in the United States, surpassing juice, milk, and beer to become the second most popular beverage after soft drinks. According to a 2003 Gallup poll, three in four Americans drink bottled water, and one in five drink only bottled water. Together, consumers spent some $10 billion on the product last year, consuming an average of 26 gallons of the stuff per person, according the Beverage Marketing Corporation. At the same time, companies spend some $70 million annually to advertise their products. Typical are Aquafina's ads advertising the beverage as "the purest of waters," Dasani's ads contending the water is "pure as water can get."

In fact, says Kellett, not only does tap water often taste the same as bottled water, but it is also often safer to drink as well. "They are spending tens of millions of dollars every year to undermine our confidence in tap water," she says, "even though water systems here in the United States are better regulated than bottled water." That's because tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which imposes strict limits on chemicals and bacteria, constant testing by government agencies, and mandatory notification to the public in the event of contamination.

Bottled water, on the other hand, is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which according to federal law is technically required to hold itself to the same standards as the EPA. The devil is in the details, however, since FDA regulations only apply to water that is bottled and transported between states, leaving out the two-thirds of water that is solely transported within states. State laws, meanwhile, are inconsistent, with some mirroring the FDA standards, some going beyond them and some falling far short of the national regulations. What's more, FDA regulations rely on companies to do their own testing, and perform voluntary recalls if products are found to be in violation of standards (if a company fails to do so, the Justice Department can order a seizure of products).

A 1999 study by the National Resources Defense Council of more than 1,000 bottles of water found that, while most bottled water was safe, some brands violated strict state standards on bacterial contamination, while others were found to contain harmful chemicals such as arsenic. The report concluded that bottled water was no safer than water taken from the tap.

In fact, many times bottled water is tap water. Contrary to the image of water flowing from pristine mountain springs, more than a quarter of bottled water actually comes from municipal water supplies. The industry is dominated by three companies, who together control more than half the market: Coca-Cola, which produces Dasani; Pepsi, which produces Aquafina; and Nestle, which produces several "local" brands including Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ozarka and Calistoga (a fact that itself often surprises participants in the Tap Water Challenges). Both Coke and Pepsi exclusively use tap water for their source, while Nestl‚ uses tap water in some brands.

Of course, Coke and Pepsi tout the elaborate additional steps they take that purify the water after it comes out of the tap, with both companies filtering it multiple times to remove particulates before subjecting it to additional techniques such as "reverse osmosis" and ozone treatment. Reverse osmosis, however, is hardly state of the art -- essentially consisting of the same treatment applied through commercially available home tap water filters, while ozonation can introduce additional problems such as the formation of the chemical bromate, a suspected carcinogen. In March 2004, Coca-Cola was forced to recall nearly 500,000 bottles of Dasani water in the United Kingdom due to bromate contamination that exceeded the U.K. and U.S. limit of 10 parts per billion. This past August, three grocery stores chains in upstate New York who all used local company Mayer Bros. to produce their store brands issued recalls after samples were found contaminated with more than double the bromate limit; in some cases, contaminated water was apparently sold for five weeks before the problem was detected.

Water originating with groundwater sources, meanwhile, can have its own problems. Citizens in states including Maine, Michigan, Texas, and Florida have all fought against Nestle, whom they accuse of harming the environment by depleting aquifers and damaging stream systems with extractions of massive amounts of water though their local bottling affiliates, for which they pay next to nothing in fees and then sell at a huge markup. In 2003, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) won a landmark court victory shutting down a Nestle plant that was taking water from a stream that fed a wildlife refuge, sensitive marshland and several lakes....

Kay questions the idea behind the Tap Water Challenges, saying that consumers have chosen bottled water not only for its consistency and taste, but also for its convenience. It isn't competing so much against tap water, he says, as it is against other beverage options. "If consumers are in a convenience store and they want a beverage without calories, caffeine, or sugar, it's just ready to go," he says. "In this era of obesity, it's irresponsible to try and sway consumers away from a healthful beverage choice."

While he allows that some tap water might taste as good as bottled water, he says, not all water users are so lucky. In some parts of the country, water is tinged with a sulphurous taste or suffers from a noticeable taint of chlorine. Indeed, at the Tap Water Challenge in Boston, one participant, Leila Saba, says she drinks tap water in Boston but chooses bottled water when she visits her parents at home in South Florida, where the water has an unpleasant taste. "I think tap water is always safe to drink," she says, "but they could make an effort to make the water taste better."....



Lives will be put at risk by a controversial law which allows homeopathic medicines to make unproven scientific claims, leading doctors have warned. More than 700 medics, scientists and members of the public have signed a statement criticising a new law which they say makes a mockery out of conventional medicine. The Government's medicines safety watchdog says the change gives patients clearer information. But critics fear that giving legitimacy to pills and potions that are based on 'magic' rather than science will cost lives. One expert likened the change to categorising Smarties as a medicine, on the basis that chocolate makes you feel better.

Homeopathy, which has won the backing of Prince Charles, claims to prevent diseases such as malaria by using dilute forms of herbs, minerals and other materials that in higher concentrations could produce the symptoms of the condition. Popular treatments include arnica, a plant-based remedy used to treat cuts and bruises, and malaria nosode, anti-malaria tablets made from African swamp water, rotting plants and mosquito eggs and larvae. However, a recent study published in the Lancet suggested that the benefits of homeopathy are all in the imagination, with alternative remedies performing no better than dummy pills in clinical trials.

Until recently, homeopathic medicine manufacturers were banned from claiming new products could treat specific ailments. But regulations introduced last month by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency allow the manufacturers to make such claims, as long as they can prove the remedy is safe. Unlike conventional medicines, they do not have to show that the remedies actually work. Instead, they only have to show that the remedy has a history of being used to treat an illness.

The change has so angered the medical establishment that hundreds of doctors and scientists have signed a statement drafted by the charity Sense About Science to oppose the new labelling system. Yesterday afternoon, the House of Lords debated the issue. The critics fear that the new system could lead to life-threatening illnesses going undiagnosed, or to people binning the tablets prescribed by their GP in favour of an unproven alternative. Edzard Ernst, professor of complimentary medicine at Exeter University, said it could cost lives. "makes a mockery out of evidence- based medicine," he said. "I feel very strongly that this is a very serious mistake. If there are claims being made, there has to be evidence for them. "Constipation could be a sign of bowel cancer and if somebody that has a treatable bowel cancer goes out and buys a homeopathic medicine, they might be untreatable tomorrow. Taken to the extreme, this regulation could cost lives."

Michael Baum, professor of surgery at University College London, accused the homoepathy industry of playing on people's beliefs in magic and superstition. He said: "Homeopathy websites advocate using mistletoe to treat breast cancer. The proving for mistletoe is that it grows on the bush in a way like cancer grows in a person. It is utterly barmy." Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor, said: "It is an extremely retrograde step for our medical regulator to decide a medicine can be licensed without proper evidence." Professor Adrian Newland, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, said he was "deeply alarmed" by the change, which could "encourage patients to use them as an alternative to conventional treatments".

Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George's Hospital in London, said those who believe homeopathic medicine work are being misled by the "placebo effect", in which any benefit comes for the patient's expectations, rather than from the treatment itself. She said: "The only plausible explanation for any objectively determined benefit of homeopathy is the placebo effect. "I assume that the regulations would therefore legitimately be extended to cover Smarties used for similar 'treatment' purposes?"

The MHRA said the new regulations, which only apply to remedies aimed at minor ailments such as headaches, stomach pains and insomnia, provide customers with more information about the range of products available. A spokesman said quality and safety were tightly controlled, adding: "The label and/or packaging must have a clear statement of the homeopathic nature of the product, with a statement instructing the patient to consult their doctor if symptoms persist." The Society of Homeopaths said its members are bound by a code of ethics designed to protect patients. Spokesman Melanie Oxley stressed that the new rules only apply to remedies bought in chemist and health food shops and used to treat minor conditions. She added: "For treatment of a serious illness, we would hope a patient would approach a registered homeopath or their doctor."



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). For a summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and no lasting harm from them has ever been shown.


No comments: