Labeling practices of water bottling firms and its public health perspective in Ethiopia
Background: Bottled water labels enable the consumers to choose brands that can best fit to their needs and preferences. Anything inaccurate, however, may pose serious public health risks, especially to vulnerable individuals. In Ethiopia, regular monitoring of bottled water quality and labelling practices is still lacking.
Objectives: This study assessed the labeling practices of water bottling firms in Ethiopia and compared the values of physicochemical water quality parameters measured in the laboratory with figures inscribed on the labels.
Methods: Samples of 11 domestic bottled water brands (N = 165) were randomly purchased from retail stores and supermarkets in Addis Ababa at three different occasions (between July 2013 and May 2014) and analyzed for their physicochemical constituents. The written and graphic information on labels of bottled water products were examined and compared with the values measured in the laboratory. Besides, values of parameters determined in the laboratory were compared and contrasted against national standards and international guidelines to assess suitability for health and to evaluate their legal compliance.
Results: A number of deficiencies were identified with regard to labeling practices. The incompleteness of the constituents displayed on the labels was a clear weakness. Only the concentrations of , , , and were appeared on the labels of all brands. On the other hand, ten, eight, and seven firms out of eleven manufacturers inscribed no information on their labels regarding the levels of total alkalinity, and respectively. The paired t-tests performed to compare the values measured in the laboratory and the manufacturer's labeling revealed that significant differences (P < 0.05) observed for the values of . In addition, there were discrepancies between the labeled figures and the values measured in the laboratory for , , , and . Moreover, there were inconsistencies when firms classify their bottled water products as ‘Mineral water’, ‘Spring water’, ‘Purified Water’, and ‘Natural water’ and a few of them were wrongly characterized.
Conclusions: From this study, it can be claimed that some parameters were mislabeled or unlabeled and a few brands were inaccurately characterized. Despite the presence of basic legal instruments, it can be said that consumers’ right are yet to be respected. To tackle the problem, regular monitoring by responsible authorities would be helpful. Besides, third-party labeling services could be used to boost the credibility of the labeling process. [Ethiop. J. Health Dev. 2016;30(2):78-85]
Keywords: Ethiopia, labelling, misbranding, public health, water quality