Monday, August 6, 2007
It's a great marketing gimmick: A bottle of water with a clean, blue label showing images of snow-capped mountains and the claim, "Pure water, perfect taste." That's the image created by Pepsico's Aquafina brand of water, and many consumers leap to the incorrect conclusion that Aquafina is sourced from mountain spring water.
In reality, Aquafina comes from tap water. Yes, the same water you get when you turn on your kitchen faucet. Of course, Aquafina is filtered, purified and perhaps even enhanced with trace amounts of added minerals, but it's certainly not mountain spring water. It's just processed tap water -- the same stuff that fills your toilet bowl when you flush.
Both the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and the FDA believe there's really no need to require bottled water manufacturers to admit their products come from tap water. No surprise there -- both these organizations routinely act to protect the interests of powerful corporations, and when it comes to bottled water, the biggest companies are often those sourcing the lowest quality water (such as tap water).
This idea that consumers should not be informed their high-priced bottled water is really just filtered tap water is consistent with the aims of food, drug and beverage corporations, who almost universally agree that consumers should be given less information, not more, about the products they're swallowing. Over the last several decades, corporations have vigorously opposed truth in labeling laws and regulations, including those requiring the labeling of trans fatty acids, sodium content and even ingredients lists! (If the food corporations had their way, all ingredients would be considered "proprietary formulas" and not listed on the label at all.)
This bottled water issue brings to light the apparent deceptive practices of some of the largest suppliers of bottled water products. By avoiding the honest labeling of the source of their water while relying on snow-capped mountain imagery, these companies quietly mislead consumers into thinking their water products are from a pristine, natural source such as a mountain spring.
CAI pressures PepsiCo to tell the truth
PepsiCo only agreed to tell the truth on their bottled water labels after being pressured by Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a non-profit organization that helps protect consumers from corporate abuse. See their website at http://www.stopcorporateabusenow.org
CAI rallied consumers from around the world to complain to PepsiCo about the current labeling of Aquafina, and thousands of consumers slammed PepsiCo's phone lines so hard that the company was forced to shut down call center operations. CAI told NewsTarget that within 30 minutes after the call-to-action announcement went live, PepsiCo's consumer phone lines were no longer being answered and would not allow callers to leave voice mails. Pepsi executives reportedly held an emergency meeting and made a decision to add the phrase, "Public water source" to Aquafina labels.
Reluctantly admitting a small part of the truth
Even then, the phrase "public water source" isn't very descriptive. To some people, the phrase simply implies that Aquafina is itself a public water source. It's not the same as admitting, "Aquafina comes from tap water," which would be a far more honest way to label the product. But PepsiCo seems to have no interest in advertising the source of their Aquafina product, and my guess is that the "public water source" text on the label will be really small and difficult to read. It's much like the labeling of side effects of prescription drugs: They bury the bad news somewhere that most consumers won't ever look.
Aquafina is currently the top-selling bottled water brand in the United States. According to CAI, 4 out of 5 consumers now drink bottled water, and 1 out of 5 drink it as their sole water source! (Gee, that's a lot of plastic going to landfill, too...)
The bottles used to package bottled water are almost always made from plastics containing bisphenol-A (BPA), a carcinogenic chemical that often leaches into the water and gets swallowed by consumers. Click here to read our articles on BPA, a chemical widely believed to contribute to certain cancers. This contamination factor, however, is true for all products stored in plastic bottles, not merely water. Sports drinks, sodas, fruit drinks and even "healthy" smoothie drinks packaged in plastic all share a common risk of BPA contamination.
Bottled water vs. public water infrastructure
The widespread shift towards bottled water products is increasingly causing consumers to lose faith in public water infrastructure, which ultimately leads to public reluctance to support investment in public water supplies. This concerns many cities who are worried that a lack of public support will cause funding for water infrastructure to erode.
These people tend to describe treated municipal water as remarkably pristine and safe for human consumption. In my opinion, however, tap water should never be swallowed without filtering it, since tap water contains scary levels of toxic chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride, a dangerous water additive chemical often contaminated with arsenic. (Click here to learn the truth about water fluoridation.)
So I wouldn't drink from the public water supply in the first place, but neither do I rely on bottled water. I use a water filtration system to clean tap water before I drink it. (Coincidentally, this is similar to what PepsiCo does when creating Aquafina water, except PepsiCo uses plastic bottles, where I only drink out of glass or stainless steel.)
You can get clean public water in places like Hawaii, Oregon and anywhere that's close to the mountains, but most folks in first world nations are getting tap water that's far from pristine. The public water infrastructure in the U.S. may be among the best in the world, but that's not saying much. I won't even shower in U.S. public water without using a chlorine filter on my shower head. (Recommended brand: Aquasana at http://www.aquasana.com )
My view on PepsiCo
Since this story has much to do with PepsiCo, I thought I would offer my personal opinion on this corporation. In my opinion, PepsiCo is a highly destructive corporation that is partially responsible for obesity, diabetes, depression and bone disorders among hundreds of millions of people around the world. Through its aggressive (and deceptive, in my opinion) marketing campaigns, lack of corporate ethics and ready willingness to exploit human beings for profit, PepsiCo has risen to be one of the most financially profitable yet ethically bankrupt organizations on the planet.
If PepsiCo were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, humanity would be healthier the very next day. PepsiCo's brands include: (followed by my opinion statement about that particular brand)
Frito-Lay: Dangerous junk food that contributes to obesity, heart disease, cancer, depression and other serious diseases.
Pepsi-Cola: Toxic beverages that destroy bone mineral density and poison consumers with chemical sweeteners in diet drinks.
Gatorade: Crap sports drinks that contain artificial colors made from petrochemical derivatives.
Tropicana: A low-end fruit juice brand engaged in deceptive labeling for many of its products.
Quaker: This is perhaps the only tolerable brand in the PepsiCo portfolio. Oatmeal is essentially good for you, although instant oats and all the sugars found in many oatmeal products make it a rather high-glycemic food that's not recommended for most people (especially diabetics or obese people).
Put it all together and you have a collection of some of the least healthy foods and beverages on the market today. When future historians examine today's epidemics of obesity and diabetes, they will no doubt scrutinize the role of companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, both of which are partly to blame for modern disease epidemics. Both companies, by the way, continue to engage in routine marketing of junk foods and sodas to children.
Pepsico is a corporation that won't even list the acrylamide content in their fried foods. Nor will it publicly admit that high-fructose corn syrup has any link whatsoever to obesity. PepsiCo, in my opinion, is a corporation living in a deviant reality, unwilling to take responsibility for its role in poisoning the population through its toxic food and beverage products.
That's my personal opinion of PepsiCo, its brands and its products. Personally, I wouldn't buy anything made by PepsiCo. I have no desire to financially reward this company by purchasing its products. If anything, we should all be boycotting PepsiCo products (and Coca-Cola, for that matter) and getting our water from somewhere else.
When traveling through airports, of course, I am sometimes forced to buy Aquafina or Dasani, as nothing else is available. This is the only time you'll ever see me drinking out of a PepsiCo bottle.
If I were in charge around here, I would immediately ban all advertising of junk foods, sodas, snack foods, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals and other harmful substances. It's the only sane thing to do if we care about the future of our children. Of course, such advertising bans will never actually take place because corporations run the government. See my CounterThink Cartoon, Government of the People for a humorous depiction of this current state of affairs.
And as far as Pepsi's water brand goes, I think it should be renamed to AquaFib.
Pepsi admits Aquafina comes from tap water!