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Water case needs answers

China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-19 07:13

It is a pity that no authoritative voice has been heard in the past week, despite the mounting public safety concerns after Nongfu Spring was accused of having chemical levels in its bottled water that are well above the national standards for drinking water.

Since an official from the Drinking Water Committee at the China National Health Association said on April 11 that Nongfu Spring has been using standards for its bottled water that are lower than the national tap water standards, the Zhejiang-based company has offered several statements and an assessment report defending the high levels of arsenic, cadmium and other substances found in its water.

According to the committee, Nongfu Spring has been using the DB33/383 criteria adopted by the government of Zhejiang province in 2005, rather than the GB5749-2006 national standards for drinking water that were introduced in 2007. Compared with the national standards that allow less than 0.01 milligrams of arsenic per liter of water, Zhejiang's standard allows a maximum of 0.05 mg per liter. Excessive intake of arsenic can result in skin cancer.

According to the country's laws on food safety and national standards, a food producer can turn to regional or industry criteria for its products in the absence of national standards, but if there are national standards in place, any regional or industry standards must be stricter.

While trying hard to explain the divergence between the local and national standards, the company has pointed its fingers at competitors, saying there is a sinister plot behind the findings.

Yet a recent report Nongfu Spring presented to the public, in which some of its quality indexes are said to be higher than required by national standards, has not eased people's safety concerns. Nor has the local quality watchdog's clarification. Given the allegation that they have been helping the local company weather the crisis, any verdict by local authorities sounds unconvincing to the skeptic.

As a company that holds more than 20 percent of the bottled water market on the Chinese mainland, Nongfu Spring faces a credibility crisis in the wake of the revelation. Yet all the average consumer wants is an explicit and truthful answer to a very simple question Does the alleged safety problem exist?

This should not be difficult to determine. However, as in many other recent cases, competent national authorities that are paid to take care of our safety concerns have remained silent.

It is time for them to speak up.

(China Daily 04/19/2013 page8)

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