Commission Press Release (IP/02/1870), 12 December 2002
The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health today voted in favour of a Commission proposal to strengthen the legislation in force on natural mineral waters. The proposal establishes maximum concentrations for a series of substances of natural origin that may pose long term health risks at high concentrations, and reinforces the labelling provisions applicable to natural mineral waters. The new rules on labelling will apply as of 1 January 2004.
David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, stated: "Production of natural mineral waters was already subject to very strict EU rules guaranteeing a high level of purity and ensuring that they are free from all environmental contamination or pollution. However, some substances that are transferred naturally to natural mineral waters during the long process of underground percolation can, in some cases, present a risk to public health in the long term. Limits must therefore be placed on the concentrations of these substances in line with the most recent EU and international scientific findings".
Maximum concentration limits
The proposal contains a list of 16 substances, all of which are of natural origin, and sets maximum concentrations for 15 them. It is based on the opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food (Opinion on arsenic, barium, fluoride, boron and manganese in natural mineral waters of 13 December 1996.) and WHO recommendations for drinking water and takes into account the most recent Codex Alimentarius international standard on "natural mineral waters".
Where a natural mineral water does not comply with the limits laid down by the proposal it will be required to undergo an authorised separation treatment. Some producers of natural mineral waters will need to invest heavily in treatment processes in order to meet all the limit values. Producers will thus be allowed until 1 January 2006 to bring their product to full compliance. In the case of fluoride and nickel, for which no separation treatment has yet been assessed or authorised at EU level, the deadline is 1 January 2008.
The proposal also establishes conditions for treatment of natural mineral waters and spring waters with ozone-enriched air, based on an opinion (Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food of 7 June 1996 on the use of ozone to separate unstable elements such as iron, manganese and arsenic from natural mineral waters.) of the Scientific Committee on Food. This treatment enables some of the undesirable constituents to be eliminated by oxidation. Specific mention of this treatment will have to be made on the label in order to inform consumers.
Furthermore, natural mineral waters containing more than 1.5 mg/l of fluoride shall mention on the label that the water is not suitable for regular consumption by babies and young children. These groups are particularly sensitive to the adverse effects of high doses of fluorine ingested over a long period of time.
The labelling provisions apply as of 1 January 2004 and will be compulsory from 1 July 2004, although products packaged and labelled prior to 1 July 2004 will be allowed to be sold until stocks are exhausted.
Use of the term "natural mineral water" on bottled waters is regulated under EU law. In order to be allowed to use this term on its label a product must be microbiologically wholesome water from an underground water table or deposit that has been recognised as a "natural mineral water" in its country of origin and that complies with all the requirements of the EU directive on natural mineral water (Council Directive 80/777/EEC of 15 July 1980 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the exploitation and marketing of natural mineral waters, last amended by Directive 96/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 October 1996). It can be distinguished from "spring water" bottled water that complies with some, but not all, of the requirements of the EU directive on natural mineral water and drinking water (for example, ordinary tap water).
Though the EU legislation in force (Council Directive 80/777/EEC of 15 July 1980 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the exploitation and marketing of natural mineral waters, last amended by Directive 96/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 October 1996) on natural mineral waters guarantees a high level of purity and ensures that the water is free from all environmental contamination or pollution it does not provide for any maximum limits for undesirable constituents of natural origin. In contrast, the Directive on drinking water does make such provisions for drinking water and spring water.