Until now, the great bottled vs. tap water debate has largely been a decision left to personal preference. Sure, some communities have stopped buying bottled water. But those decisions haven't affected bottled water sales much -- they've just meant some cities took bottled water from city hall vending machines, or stopped selling water at community events. If bottled water sales have dropped -- and the experts say it has -- that seems to have more to do with the economy than with the anti-bottle movement. But in Florida, the debate might be getting a bit louder, now that Miami-Dade county has gone on the offensive with a 30-second radio ad that slams bottled water. Nestle Waters North America is considering fighting back, according to this story in The Miami Herald.
In the radio ad, a talking faucet extols Miami-Dade's tap water as cheaper, purer and safer than bottled water. It may have sounded innocuous to most listeners, but the 30-second spot left the nation's largest purveyor of bottled water boiling mad. Nestle Waters North America, which makes nearly $4 billion a year selling Zephyrhills and other brands, is threatening to sue if the county doesn't kill commercials the company brands as false advertising. ''It's an attack on the integrity of the company,'' said Nestle spokesman Jim McClellan. ``It's an attack on the product we produce -- and it's blatantly wrong.''The county paid $100,000 for the radio ads, which John Renfrow, director of the Water and Sewer Department, told the Herald were aimed at educating the area's immigrant population, many from countries where tap water is not safe. "'This is your water faucet speaking, " the ad says. "You think bottled water is purer and safer? You think it's better? Well, you're wrong. It's just the opposite. Bottled water is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Tap water is. That's why you always can be sure Miami-Dade tap water is superior. Stop wasting your money!" Nestle responded by testing Miami-Dade's water -- it claims the results show the samples exceed federal standards for fecal coliform -- and sent complaints to the county and the state attorney general. "'When you make a statement and say your water is better than our water, we want to find out," Kevin Mathews, director of health and environmental affairs for Nestle, told the Herald. So now the gloves are off. Nestle has shown that its willing to step up and take legal action when bottled water comes under attack, even when its own brands aren't specifically named. I don't think the response will put an end to this debate, but it may discourage some cities from taking aggressive anti-bottled water stands.