The revisions would clarify the detailed legislative requirements governing the industry and reduce burdens on bottled water producers and local regulators, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said yesterday in publishing the proposed changes.
The proposed law consolidates the requirements of the existing 1999 law governing producers and bottlers of natural mineral water, spring water and bottled drinking water regulations 1999 as amended by changes made in 2003 and 2004.
"The aim is to make the collective instructions more transparent and user friendly," the FSA stated. "By incorporating text from the parent directives it is anticipated that the need to cross-reference will be reduced. By virtue of this consolidation, enforcement bodies and stakeholders will be provided with a single statutory instrument against which compliance with the regulations can be measured."
Some of the changes include the redrafting of the minimum hardness requirement for spring water and drinking water that has been softened or desalinated.
The requirement puts a limit by how much processors can soften or desalinate water.
It clarifies that water bottlers may not add calcium to their products. Bottlers have interpreted the current law as allowing the reintroduction of calcium to reach the minimum hardness level, set at 60mg per litre.
"This was not the intention of the provision and given the clarification of this provision in the consolidated regulations, this practice will no longer be possible," the FSA stated.
Hardness consists of a complex mix of polyvalent minerals, the main component of which is calcium. The calcium concentration is there as an indicator of the hardness level present in the water.
"The reason for this requirement is the large body of epidemiological evidence that hardness in water has a benefit to cardiac heart health, but it is not known exactly what it is in the water hardness that causes the benefit," the FSA stated in guidance notes accompanying the proposals.
Provisions for using infant feed claims on natural mineral water may also be incorporated into the draft regulations if time permits, the FSA stated.
The proposal on the infant feed claims are not included in the draft text of the proposed regulation as it already went through the consultation process last year, the regulator stated.
The FSA estimates that a technical or regulatory affairs manager from any of the 64 UK bottled water producers spends about two to three days on average working with local authorities discussing legislation.
Many companies also employ consultants to aid their work with legislation. The regulator estimates that producers will be able to achieve cost savings due to less pressure on the time of managers and consultants and estimates this would amount to £79,000 in savings every year by the bottled water industry.
The FSA also looked at the legislation's affect on small businesses and found that the impact would be "insignificant."
The bottled water market in the UK was worth an estimated £1.7bn (€2.5bn)in 2005, compared to £1.57bn (€2.3bn) in 2004. Consumers bought about two billion litres in 2005.
Natural mineral water accounted for 56 per cent of all bottled water consumption by volume, while spring water or regular bottled drinking water took a a 27 per cent share.
The remaining 17 per cent of the volume sales were attributed to the soft drink segment, made up of flavoured water, a product not directly covered by the proposed regulation.
The UK's bottled water industry is dominated by six major brands that share 54 per cent of the market.
In 2005, the three leading brands of bottled water accounted for 15.6 per cent , 13.5 per cent and 6.4 per cent of branded sales by volume. Private label volume share stood at 46 per cent. Danone is the dominant player, with the UK's Highland Spring coming second.
About 50 per cent of UK adults drank bottled water in 2004. The propensity to purchase still bottled water is highest among those aged between 15 to 24 years. The age group accounted for 58 per cent of the market. The tendency to by bottled water declines with age to reach 26 per cent among those over 65 years of age.
The FSA plans on implementing the new legislation to come into force on 1 October 2006.
Consultation on the proposals ends 11 August.