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Nestlé admits having used prohibited treatments on mineral waters to maintain their “food safety”

Photo: Dominique Faget Agence France-Presse The brands concerned – Perrier, Vittel, Hépar and Contrex – all owned by Nestlé, are now “fully compliant with the regulatory framework applicable in France”, assures the company.

Damien Stroka – Agence France-Presse and Maxence D’Aversa – Agence France-Presse in Paris and in Strasbourg

January 29, 2024

  • Europe

The world number one in mineral water Nestlé Waters informed the French authorities in 2021 that it had used prohibited ultraviolet treatments and activated carbon filters on some of its mineral waters to maintain “their food security”.

Even if these treatments “have always had the objective of guaranteeing food safety”, they “led the company to lose sight of the issue of regulatory compliance”, explained Nestlé Waters to AFP, confirming information from Les Échos .

The brands concerned – Perrier, Vittel, Hépar and Contrex -, all owned by Nestlé, are now “fully compliant with the regulatory framework applicable in France”, assures the company, which says it has abandoned the prohibited treatments over the past three years.

Resulting from a European directive, the regulations prohibit any disinfection of mineral waters which must naturally be of high microbiological quality, unlike tap water which is disinfected before becoming drinkable.

A regulation whose interpretation excludes the ultraviolet treatments and activated carbon filters used by Nestlé Waters.

But the company justifies the use of these techniques by “changes in the environment around its sources, which can sometimes make it difficult to maintain the stability of the essential characteristics” of its waters, in other words their absence of pollution.

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“Different chemical or microbiological elements”, which accumulate when “water passes through groundwater or through its path in the factory pipes” required the use of these filters, says Muriel Lienau, president of Nestlé France, in an interview with AFP.

These practices were a “heritage of the past”, judges Muriel Lienau, who says she cannot precisely date their introduction.

Closed wells

These practices were a “legacy of the past”, judges Ms. Lienau, who says she cannot precisely date their introduction.

Nestlé Waters decided in 2021 to inform the health authorities of their use of these filtration techniques.

The authorities confirmed to him that ultraviolet light and activated carbon could be interpreted as disinfection, unlike the microfiltration that Nestlé continues to use.

In agreement with the authorities, the company put an end to these treatments, forcing it to close four of its wells in the Vosges which could not “guarantee the essential characteristics of mineral water”.

The closed wells, attached to the Hépar and Contrex brands, were particularly sensitive to climatic hazards. “After great droughts, heavy rains disturbed them,” explains Muriel Lienau.

These closures led to a division of Hépar's production by two.

Concerning Perrier, Nestlé had to reallocate some of the wells in Gard towards the production of a new brand of flavored waters and energy drinks, Maison Perrier, which is therefore not subject to regulations on mineral waters.

In a press release, the group's CGT union explains that it was never informed “of the water treatment process”. The CGT elected officials “will look at the different possibilities they have legally in relation to possible actions on this obvious lack of transparency vis-à-vis the CSEs”. The social and economic committee is the staff representation body in the company.

Social plan

Olivier Alméras, general secretary of the CGT union at the Perrier source in Vergèze (Gard), is however satisfied with the strategy of reallocation of wells to drinks sold under the Maison Perrier brand: “These used wells can only reassure employees since they allow us to produce more. Maison Perrier remains, for us, a Perrier brand, which is rejuvenating, working on its marketing, and therefore ensuring our jobs,” explains the delegate to AFP.

The site has been affected by a voluntary departure plan since 2020. “This is less employment, but which can be explained by a more efficient production tool,” reports Mr. Alméras.

The cessation of the incriminated treatments, concomitant with the end of the marketing of the Vittel brand in Germany, also motivated the group to launch a social plan in the Vosges, resulting in the elimination of 171 positions, without dismissal according to a November agreement with the unions.

“It does not surprise us that they were forced to filter this water to keep its [mineral] composition which must be stable,” reacted to AFP Bernard Schmitt, a former doctor, member of the “Eau 88” collective. , which is fighting against what its members consider to be overexploitation by Nestlé of local water tables.

“It’s a company that does what it wants and no one has the means to control what it does,” he criticized. “For me, there is more than a failure of controls, there is an abandonment […] of the State, of successive powers” ​​for years, he further estimated.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116