An investigation by Le Monde and Radio France’s investigative unit found that several French manufacturers, including Nestlé, applied prohibited treatments to their bottled water. These treatments include microfiltration less than 0.8 microns, a practice not permitted by current regulations, and adding things like iron sulfate and industrial CO2.
The case began with a report of fraud within the Sources Alma group, which produces various brands of bottled water in France. The investigation of the General Directorate of Competition, Consumption, and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) revealed that the company subjected its mineral water to treatments that did not comply with regulations, including mixing mineral or spring water with tap water.
In an effort to maintain the production of mineral water factories, Nestlé admitted to the French Ministry of Economy that it resorted to non-compliant practices because the water sources it uses are often contaminated. As a result of this, the French government, in an inter-ministerial meeting, gave Nestlé the possibility of authorizing, by changing the orders, the practice of microfiltration of less than 0.8 microns.
The next report, prepared by the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (Igas) and sent by the government, found that nearly 30% of bottled water brands were not in compliance. In particular, it is emphasized that all Nestlé brands use prohibited treatments, including microfiltration below 0.8 microns and the use of activated carbon and ultraviolet.
Although Nestlé admits to removing some of these treatments from its factories, the National Agency for Food Safety (ANSES) noted that the microfiltration systems maintained by Nestlé do not comply with the regulatory framework.
The scandal led a consumer advocacy organization, Foodwatch, to file a complaint for “tromperie” (fraud). Likewise, the ARS Grand Est contacted the Epinal prosecutor, who opened a preliminary investigation for the fraud of the public health code, while in other regions, such as Occitanie, no legal action was taken even for the same irregularities.
This case shows key regulatory and management problems in the bottled water industry, as well as concerns about the safety and quality of the water offered to the consumer.