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Thirst for bottled water fuels food miles

3rd November 2004

waterIn a supermarket survey, the Food Commission has found bottled water that has travelled more than 10,000 miles (16,000km) to reach UK consumers.

The distance that food travels is growing ever longer, with food products and ingredients shipped, flown and trucked to supermarket shelves. Every extra mile uses more fossil fuel and adds more carbon dioxide emissions to our national total - emissions that boost the UK's contribution to climate change.

The Food Commission has often criticised government and retailers for failing to tackle food miles (the distance that food travels). Often, foods that have been transported for long distances could have been grown more locally, whether in the UK or in nearby countries.

As well as contributing to climate change, the increasing globalisation of the food trade also leads to new food safety concerns, such as the spread of avian flu from Asia and contaminated food products that are almost impossible to trace.

Although bottled water is unlikely to cause food safety concerns, transporting water halfway across the world is surely the most ludicrous use of fossil fuels when water is plentiful in the UK. In October, the UK government's scientific advisor said that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere already represent a danger and that the world had to adapt to prepare for significant changes ahead, and also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Curbing greenhouse gas emissions will involve everyone - industry and consumers - taking action to reduce energy and fuel use. Yet UK supermarkets such as Waitrose and Fresh & Wild stock Fijian water that boasts that its source is 'separated by over 2,500 kilometres of the open Pacific from the nearest continent.' The water is bottled at source in Fiji - about 10,000 miles from mainland Europe - and transported to the UK.

Most food retailers that we surveyed stocked the same types of bottled water - mainly waters from Scotland, Derbyshire, Wales and France.

Evian and Vittel were the most commonly available French waters. Vittel travels approximately 400 miles (645 km) to reach the UK, and Evian travels approximately 460 miles (740 km).

The Scottish bottled waters, whilst from our own mainland, travel a similar distance to those sourced in France - typically 400 miles (645 km).

The closest we could get to London in all the waters we surveyed was Cotswold Spring Water, available in Asda, and bottled in Bath - about 100 miles (175 km).

Fiji waterAll of these bottled waters mean extra trucks on the road, extra fuel use and extra carbon dioxide emissions, when Londoners could simply have turned on their taps!

Some waters also came from further afield than the UK or Europe, with one water from a small London retailer coming from Canada and one water (shown on the right) coming over 10,000 miles from Fiji.

The trade in bottled water doesn't go in one way either. In 1998 the UK imported 65 million of bottled water, and exported 5.7 million. 

Our investigations also revealed the absurd extent to which we now believe that bottled water is better than tap water. Not only can humans clock up their water miles, so can pets! These products are from the US, but have been seen on sale in pet shops in Scotland. PetRefresh water for your pooch, parrot or kitty!