Will changes to bottled water composition result in improvement for Australian consumers?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th August 2012

The Australian Government’s food standards agency, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), has called for submissions about adopting World Health Organization (WHO) limits for chemicals in packaged water sold in Australia.

The Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) has applied to FSANZ to change the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to adopt the chemical limits set by WHO in its Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality.

Some of the differences between the existing FSANZ standard and the WHO guidelines are significant.
On the one hand, there could be six times more mercury (albeit miniscule) allowed in Australia’s bottled water, and two times more copper. But on the other hand, allowable levels of arsenic and lead would drop significantly, and levels of boron would become one-twelfth of the current limit. Organic matter would also become less acceptable under the new standard.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said adopting the WHO standard would place limits on more chemicals and would bring the requirements for packaged water in Australia and New Zealand into line with international standards.

The Australasian Bottled Water Institute said that aligning Australia and New Zealand bottled water to World Health Organisation standard would benefit the packaged water industry.

“This application will reassure consumers that chemical constituents in packaged water are regulated on a mandatory level to the same levels as those set internationally. The inclusion of such limits will also enhance the ability of the industry to compete in export markets overseas,” said the Australasian Bottled Water Institute’s submission.

FSANZ says it supports the change to the WHO guidelines, although suggest maintaining two existing limits, including for Fluoride. Current limits in Australia allow 2.0 mg/L of naturally occurring fluoride, whereas WHO would accept only 1.5mg/L.

“FSANZ is recommending adopting the WHO limits, with two exceptions. We are recommending maintaining the current lower limit for fluoride in packaged water and a marginally higher limit for styrene, which is used as a processing aid in packaged water,” said Mr McCutcheon.

Mr McCutcheon added that “FSANZ has taken into account safety assessments conducted by expert advisors to WHO and FSANZ’s own assessments conducted for fluoride and styrene.”

FSANZ welcomes comments from government agencies, public health professionals, industry and the community on its report.

The closing date for submissions to FSANZ is 13 September 2012.