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Nestlé's claims on water bottling operation in Brazil demonstrably untrue, says Baby Milk Action

Press release 2 March 2006

Nestlé, the world's largest food company, responded to a seminar launching a declaration calling for water to be recognised as a human right and a public good by launching an attack on a visiting speaker from Brazil (click here for seminar details). Nestlé wrote to Baby Milk Action's partners in the event claiming that Franklin Fredrick, a member of the Brazilian Health Council's committee on mineral water and of the Citizens' Movement to Protect the Water of Minas Gerais, was misrepresenting the facts in the case. If it was hoping the organisers would withdraw their support for the speaker, Nestlé was disappointed. Mr. Fredrick related the efforts of campaigners and authorities to stop Nestlé's harmful water pumping in the historic spa town of São Lourenço, which began ten years ago. In a public statement read to the meeting Nestlé claimed that allegations concerning 162 metre wells (known as the Primavera well) sunk into the aquifer in the town's water park were untrue.

Nestlé claims: "a third party audit by Bureau Veritas confirms that we have acted in accordance with Brazilian legislation, and we extract far less water than we are legally permitted... Bureau Veritas audit confirms that the test evidence and resultant regulatory approvals do not support allegations that exploitation of the Primavera Well (Sao Lourenço) negatively impacts groundwater in the region."

This statement in itself appears to be admitting that pumping of water continues at the Primavera Well despite a published government order from 24 March 2004 paralyzing all activity. Documents relating to the case are given below.

UPDATE 17 AUGUST 2006: Bureau Veritas has since informed Baby Milk Action: “our work did not constitute a legal audit as such, nor did it include a review of the on-going civil action".

Baby Milk Action's Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, Mike Brady, has visited São Lourenço and Brasilia and spoken with campaigners, public prosecutors pursuing Nestlé through the courts for compensation for the town of São Lourenço, a hydrologist, a Member of Congress who organised a public hearing into the case and many others. He said:

"It comes as no surprise to see Nestlé using the same tactics of denial and deception to try to divert criticism of the environmental impact of its water bottling as it uses in the baby food issue. Bureau Veritas came to our attention last year when Nestlé claimed it had certified its baby food marketing activities comply with the regulations. It appears Nestlé is either misrepresenting the findings of these investigations or they have been conducted in an incomplete or dishonest manner. The documentary evidence certainly demonstrates the findings, as presented by Nestlé, are clearly untrue. We have invited Nestlé to submit its claims on baby food marketing to scrutiny before an independent, expert tribunal and it has refused. We invite it and Bureau Veritas to do the same with its claims about its water bottling operation in São Lourenço. Documents we have compiled support the claims of Mr. Fredrick."

Key facts with supporting documents

Click here to download this fact list as a Word document.

  • Nestlé is now the world’s largest bottled water company. It took over the Perrier company in 1992, gaining control of the historic water park in São Lourenço, Minas Gerais state, Brazil.

  • In 1996 it sank 2 wells 162 metres deep into the aquifer (known as the Primavera well) without the necessary authorisation and began demineralizing water to produce its Pure Life brand, which is being launched in an increasing number of developing countries. As the company was told several times by the National Department for Mineral Resources (DNPM) when it tried to gain retrospective permission for its wells and operation, demineralizing water is illegal under Brazilian Federal Law ( Mineral Water Code, Legal Directive No. 7,841 of 8 August 1945). As Nestlé did not stop its operations, in 2003 the DNPM commissioned a legal opinion which set out the illegal nature of Nestlé’s activities and recommended operations at the Primavera well be ‘paralysed’. Click here to download the document (in Portuguese).

  • On 24 March 2004 an order was published in the official diary giving Nestlé 30 days to paralyze all activities at the Primavera well. Nestlé refused to stop and went to the Supreme Court, which extended the 30 days to October 2004. Click here to download the official diary page as a pdf document (Nestlé is referred to as the Empresa de Aguas de São Lourenço Ltd. - see left hand column)

  • In 2001 citizens of São Lourenço presented a petition with 3,000 signatures to Pedro Paulo Aina, the Public Prosecutor in the town, as they were concerned that tourists were noticing changes to the mineral composition of the springs in the park. Notable subsidence was also occurring, which Nestlé’s blames on the effects of a flood, but which the town hydrologist attributes to water extraction. Mr. Aina investigated and is pursuing a case for compensation for the town.

  • A public hearing took place in Congress on 1 July 2004 and the official journal reports (click here for the English translation and original article):

"The Federal Public Ministry officer of Minas Gerais Afrânio José Fonseca Nardy denounced the activity of Nestlé in a spring in São Lourenço as improper and not in line with the fundamental principles of the Mineral Water Code.

"According to the officer, Nestlé altered the water from the spring, removing some minerals and inserting others in the composition of the mineral water “Pure Life”. He recalled that the company already sells other products, such as São Lourenço mineral water and, when it began exploiting another well, it broke the law because it did not submit the project to environmental impact assessment. 'There is an alteration in the technology used in the source, which should have passed through an Environmental Impact Study,' he explained."

See the Congress website for reports and a video from the public hearing.

  • An impact assessment obtained by Baby Milk Action shows the expansion to be in the area of highest environmental vulnerability (see below).

  • Although Nestlé stopped demineralising water in October 2004, Nestlé did not paralyse activities, but continued to pump water to extract carbon dioxide gas. A report Nestlé commissioned from Bureau Veritas apparently suggests operations at the wells continue to this day, but still allegedly clears the company of any wrong doing. Last year Nestlé referred to another report commissioned from Bureau Veritas on its baby food marketing in Africa which also cleared the company, a finding Baby Milk Action describes as ‘demonstrably untrue’ (click here).
  • Official hydrological analysis of the water from historic springs in the park, produced for the regulatory authority (DNPM), shows changes to the mineral composition, a finding substantiated by BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts , which broadcast its investigation on 22 July 2005 (click here for the programme and here for the transcript).
  • Nestlé has obtained a letter from the new Mayor to São Lourenço praising the company. Nestlé has donated large sums to his administration for festivals in the city.
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