Is Bottled Water Really Natural Spring Water and Supermarkets Organic Meat

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"Would you prefer plain, carbonated, boreholed, or natural spring, sir?"
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"Would you prefer plain, carbonated, boreholed, or natural spring, sir?"
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Natural spring water bottlers argue that drilled well water should not be sold as "spring water" and that drilling borehole wells can draw contaminated surface water into otherwise pure natural spring aquifiers nearby.
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These "free-range" chickens might not be quite the happy, wandering fowl you'd imagined.
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Only some organically raised beef cattle (such as a few of Mel Coleman's here) really are "free-range."

News briefs on boring for natural spring water and the government health regulations in the industry, and free-range, organic meats appearing in supermarkets.

Is Bottled Water Really Natural Spring Water and Supermarkets Organic Meat

On November 13, 1995, the FDA, after much delay, published
regulations that will allegedly clean up the bottled water
industry. A major aspect of the FDA regulations stems from
a practice in which over 50 percent of the bottled water
industry participate—borehole drilling. Water
obtained from a borehole does not naturally flow from a
spring but rather, like well water, is forcefully sucked
from the ground with hydraulic pumps.

The dilemma before the FDA in November of ’95 was this: is
it truthful to label water drilled from a borehole “natural
spring water.” The FDA decided that no substantial
difference exists, and as long as the borehole water is
identical to the water that flows from the spring, the
“natural spring water” label may remain.

But is there really no difference between naturally flowing
spring water and borehole water, or do those who actually
market naturally emerging spring water wish to create a
controversy when there essentially is none? Besides having
a rather ominous name, is borehole water safe?

Many hydrogeologists believe that water pumped from
aquifers near springs can change as a result of intense
pressures the suction creates. Boreholes pump out hundreds
of gallons per minute, creating a suction in the
surrounding region which draws water from areas not
associated with the spring. Contaminated ground water can
then enter the borehole area, something that ostensibly
could never happen in a natural spring.

SPRING WATER:
a flow of water rising or issuing naturally from the
earth.
(Oxford English Dictionary)

“By definition the borehole will be shallow,” said Dr.
Susan N. Boutros, president of Environmental Associates, in
a letter to the FDA in 1993. “Wells less than fifty feet in
depth,” she continues, “and [those] less than 200 feet from
a surface water are considered at risk of surface
contamination.”

Bill Sharp, a professor of geology at Penn State, asserts:
“You can create a situation where water from surrounding
areas flows towards the borehole, especially in boreholes
close to the surface, creating the possibility of higher
contaminants.” Contaminants such as cryptosparidium and
giardia can enter the aquifer through surface water. There
are no federal stipulations for the appropriate depth of a
borehole.

As if that were not complicated enough, boreholes can
interrupt the natural flow of the aquifer that feeds the
spring. Bill Miller, president of the National Spring Water
Association, says that boreholes “upset the equilibrium” of
a spring. Miller compares borehole drilling to stripmining
for gold or clear-cutting forests, rapidly depleting water
resources. In Nacodoches, Texas, Ozarka, a bottled water
company owned by Perrier, had to abandon a spring that
became contaminated by manganese. Many experts believe the
poisoning resulted from the pumping of the spring. Citizens
in Fort Worth lobbied unsuccessfully against Ozarka’s
borehole drilling at Rohr Spring, which impacts a community
of 5,000. Dale Groom, head of the citizens action
committee, claims the borehole will drain privately owned
wells. “We have this foreign-owned bottler who has come in
and is taking people’s water,” says Groom. On March 8, one
week after pumping began, the well of Bart Sipriano, which
lies half a mile from the Ozarka site, went dry.

Jim Heaton, former president of the NSWA, says that
borehole drilling can “destroy a watershed area.” “Our
watershed areas are becoming slim for pure and natural
water,” Heaton claims. “Water systems are becoming old. If
we don’t protect these watersheds in the future, then what
will our children do for clean, safe water?”

The International Bottled Water Association, which
represents nearly 85 percent of bottled water companies
including Perrier, Poland Spring, and Ozarka, favors
regulations allowing drilled water to be labeled as spring
water. Tyrone Wilson, a spokesman for the IBWA, says, “We
know it’s not the best system, but we’re happy with it.”

The 1995 ruling says that any borehole water chemically
different from the water that emerges naturally from the
spring cannot have a natural spring label. But many
question the efficacy of the FDA to monitor the industry.
Mark Izeman of the National Resources Defense Council says,
“The FDA is anemic. Any promise they make to enforce a
ruling is really farcical.” The FDA admits that it does not
individually monitor the bottled water industry but rather
relies largely on self-regulation by the bottlers. The FDA
randomly tests for contaminants by taking samples from
supermarket shelves.

Bottled water is certainly one of the safest, purest food
products on the market today. Even borehole water is in
general extremely safe. A wide array of post-extraction
purifying tech niques such as ozone and radiation treatment
provide a high percentage of safety. As Eddie Lauth, owner
of AquaPenn, a naturally emerging spring water company in
Pennsylvania, states, “What is more important than how the
water is extracted is how the water is treated afterwards.”
Yet, as many experts believe, borehole water is potentially
less pure than natural spring water. Contaminants can
escape the purification barrage that water undergoes, as
the infamous Perrier incident of the early 90s proved when
bottles of Perrier had to be pulled off the shelves due to
contamination by small traces of benzene. The FDA, however,
along with the IBWA, feels that this difference isn’t
significant enough to notify the public through
distinctions in labeling. Others are not so sure.

Kinder, Gentler Dinners: Free Range, Organic Meats in Supermarkets

Market forces have finally brought megastores such as
Safeway, Giant, and Food Emporium to begin stocking animal
produce that has been brought to market with some concern
for the animals’ welfare.

Often this simply means that animals have been raised on
organic feed and with less reliance on hormones and
antibiotics.

Although the USDA is working on an “organic” classification
label that will cover meat and poultry, for now consumers
must do a little research on individual company brands. The
Humane Society prints a brochure of preferred producers,
and other groups, like the Food Animals Concern Trust, have
started lending their imprimatur to companies that meet
their ethical criteria.

The founder of Coleman Natural Meats, which did a brisk $40
million in business last year, sees a watershed in American
agriculture approaching. Farmers, ranchers, and academics
pulled together, he says, to meet the postwar challenge of
growing cheaper food more efficiently, says Mel Coleman,
who sits on an advisory board of the Humane Society. Now,
says Coleman, whose grandchildren will be the sixth
generation of ranchers in his family, American livestock
producers must cede the low-cost producer status to
countries like Mexico and Indonesia and position
themselves, and American agriculture, to “raise
high-quality foods sustainably for markets everywhere.” A
self-described Archie Bunker Republican, Coleman says
anyone can be green. With almost evangelical zeal he
explains that when you raise cattle on rangeland grasses
rather than exclusively on grain “you don’t use anything
but the sun’s energy.”

Ironically, as many Americans have cut back on their intake
of red meat and switched to poultry, they have cast their
food-dollar ballot in favor of the most intensive of all
the livestock industries. Snarfing back mounds of succulent
white meat, most people don’t consider the pervasive
practice of debeaking, nor do they care whether the bird
spent its entire life without taking a dust bath. The
curtailment, or all-out suppression, of innate
drives–what veterinarians call pathogenic
conditions–leads ultimately to antisocial and unnatural
behaviors. Stress-induced illnesses lead only to further
“corrective” measures by the factory farm caretaker.

But before we can dive into a bucket of free-range chicken,
Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns, cautions
that “terms like free range … sound like Disney
fantasyland and that’s about what they are.” The label
makes consumers feel good because they are allowed to
imagine birds strutting in the low grass, clucking in the
sun. Reality sometimes comes closer to 100,000 longhorns
crammed together on a gymnasium floor. Even under the best
of circumstances, the animals’ essential natures are still
suppressed.

It comes to a question of degrees, and of personal
tolerances. Consumers are learning, as Humane Society
vice-president for bioethics Michael W. Fox puts it, that
“it’s not what [statements] come out of your mouth, it’s
what you put into your mouth that can really make
a difference.”

“People are asking for change in terms of agriculture and
livestock production;” says Organic Trade Association
director Katherine DiMatteo, “We’re just at the point of
breaking the industry wide open.”

–David U. Andrews