Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Aquafina - Artificially Mineralised Water, Anyone?

Aquafina is a bottled water that's sold in the UAE. It's one of a couple of strange sidelines operated by Pepsico, the people that bring you carbonated water, sugar, phosphoric acid and caramel under the brand Pepsi Cola. They also produce a brand of basmati rice sold in the UAE, for some bizarre reason.

Aquafina has been outed by US based action group Corporate Accountability International, which has been making something of a song and dance about the fact that water from public sources is being bottled by companies branding what is effectively tap water masquerading as spring water. Their point, a fair one really, is that selling tap water under brands that reinforce a strong association with purity, freshness, mountains, green hillsides and all that sort of stuff is misleading. It has to be said that they're not really that worried about the stuff we buy here in the UAE - water under the Aquafina brand is sold in the USA and, we can safely assume, a rather larger volume of the stuff is shipping over there than here.

There is a fine distinction involved here. Water sold as spring water or mineral water must come from a natural source. But Aquafina is not sold as spring water. It is sold as 'pure drinking water'. I'd always assumed it was a by-product of purifying the water needed to produce the Middle East's favourite cola, 'Bebzi', but apparently not.

Pepsico's UAE franchisee, Dubai Refreshments, has moved swiftly in reaction to the 'Aquafina is tap water' charge by arranging a press trip to its facility in Dibba to show press that Aquafina is sourced from underground and is not tap water. The press duly turned up and were taken around the factory and the report is in today's media. They were shown 'two wooden boxes with pipes leading from them', assured by the manager that this was an underground source and handed a statement from the Dibba Municipality that asserts that the water is produced from an underground source inside the premises of the factory.

In a moment of magically skewed messaging, the manager of the factory assured media that "Even the water in our toilets is from the wells."

The end of Gulf News' report is, I think, the most telling part of the story. To quote GN, whose story is linked here (and which I highly recommend, just so you can read between any lines you might find in the carefully worded statement from the Municipality): "...the water's total dissolved solids (TDS) can be anything from 400 to 1200 parts per million (PPM) when it is first pumped but this is reduced to nil before salts and minerals, provided by Pepsico International, are injected in the water. The final TDS count in Aquafina is 120ppm." (My italics, BTW)

Funnily enough, the claimed TDS count on Aquafina's label is 110ppm. Putting that discrepancy aside, we have a water that is labelled, similarly to mineral waters, with its mineral content displayed on the label. But we now know that this mineral content is added by the bottler to water that has been treated to remove a high content of dissolved solids.

The question of source is almost irrelevant now: Gulf News' report makes it clear (although not as clear as some may have liked or expected) that Aquafina is treated water that has been artificially mineralised. But what interests me is that the media didn't do the one thing that would get to the bottom of the question of Aquafina's source and purity for once and for all: take it to a lab and have it analysed.

My pal Scott, a qualified chemist, worked in a testing lab here in the Emirates for a couple of years and would only ever drink Masafi. It was the only bottled water in the Emirates, he used to say, that contained what it said it contained on the label. I've tended to go with that advice myself...


Mme Cyn said...

We had a prof here a few years ago who had his chem class run tests on all the bottled water brands sold here and tap water from each Emirate. Their conclusions: Masafi is good, Oasis is good, but never ever drink Abu Dhabi's tap water!

shammydharamy said...
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