Unlike tap water, packaged or bottled water is only intended for drinking. It is bottled in packaging plants before being placed on the market in batches via distribution channels, and is therefore considered as a food product in its own right. Like tap water, bottled water is monitored by the producers and distributors, and controlled by the health authorities.
However, because of its characteristics, this water is subject to specific regulations (Articles R.1322-1 et seq of the French Public Health Code transposing the provisions of Directive 2009/54/EC supplemented by the Decree of 14 March 2007 on the quality criteria for packaged water, treatment and specific labelling of packaged natural mineral water and spring water as well as natural mineral water distributed for public refreshment) which distinguish three types of water according to its origin, stability and the treatment received, namely:
- natural mineral water;
- spring water;
- water made drinkable by treatment.
Three types of bottled water
Water made drinkable by treatment, according to current regulations, may come from underground or surface resources.It must comply with the quality criteria applicable to tap water (water intended for human consumption from the public water supply) and may receive any treatment authorised for tap water, including disinfection.Sale of this type of water is not very widespread in France.
Natural mineral water and spring water, in accordance with current regulations, is exclusively of underground origin and must be microbiologically safe.It may not undergo any disinfection.However, to eliminate any undesirable or toxic substances of natural origin (fluorine, arsenic, iron, etc.), certain specifically-evaluated treatments appearing on a list of authorised treatments may be used, including ozone-enriched air treatment under certain conditions (Specified in Directive 2003/40/EC transposed into French law by the aforementioned Decree of 14 March 2007 as amended). The use and bottling of natural mineral water and spring water are subject to prefectural authorisation.
Spring water, water made drinkable by treatment and mineral water are not subject to the same quality criteria:
- spring water and water made drinkable by treatment must meet the same quality criteria as the public water supply (tap water). It may be consumed without risk for a whole lifetime;
- natural mineral water is subject to specific criteria set out in the regulations.It must also contain a constant mineral composition that characterises it in order to be authorised as natural mineral water.These criteria ensure that the resource is exploited sustainably.In order to obtain authorisation to exploit and bottle natural mineral water, its geological origin is assessed; this is often water that has circulated for several decades through different geological strata.
It may have health effects and, depending on its composition, may be recommended for specific needs: water containing sulphate can have a laxative effect for example, while others boost calcium intake, etc.Others, on the contrary, due to their sodium concentration should not be consumed in excess and may present contraindications. Any therapeutic use of natural mineral water falls within the medical field and is outside ANSES's sphere of competence.
The Agency’s role
Between 2000 and 2007, the Agency reviewed applications for authorisation to exploit natural mineral water. It issued almost 80 Opinions during this period.This procedure is now performed at prefectural level and the Agency has produced a report on the assessment of natural mineral water with regard to health, to help the prefectural services deal with these applications.
ANSES assesses specific innovative treatments for natural mineral water and spring water in order to ensurethat they:
- do not disinfect the water;
- are effective on the undesirable or toxic substance concerned and do not change the water’s other characteristics;
- are as natural as possible, i.e. they use natural treatment media such as sand, and do not use chemical products (apart from plant maintenance cycles).
ANSES assesses the risks associated with substances of natural origin that may be present in packaged water.It is consulted particularly on the limits adapted for infant food labelling.
ANSES is also involved in supporting the services of the French Ministries of Health and Industry on the subject of bottled water, and participates in scientific and technical reviews concerning Directive 2009/54/EC such as to prepare Regulation (EU) 115/2010 of 9 February 2010 laying down the conditions for use of activated alumina for the removal of fluoride from natural mineral water and spring water.It also provides support in discussions on the Codex Alimentarius texts concerning bottled water.
The Agency has produced an assessment of the risks associated with the presence of mould and yeast in packaged water in order to have a reference inventory available in exceptional cases of contamination.
The Agency also has data on the consumption of bottled water collected during some of its national surveys.
The Agency’s expertise l on packaged water relies on the Expert Committee on “Water” and experience acquired over more than 30 years by the Nancy Laboratory for Hydrology that conducts studies and research on packaged water.