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C 92 E/198 Official Journal of the European Union EN 17.4.

2003

1. Does not the Commission consider that this represents a violation of the principle of equality
between the various languages?

2. Does not the Commission consider that this represents a clear violation of the principle of
subsidiarity, provided for in the Maastricht Treaty? Surely, when it comes to consumer protection, national
governments are in the best position to judge whether their own citizens, many of whom will be
monolingual, will receive sufficient information?

3. What measure is the Commission considering in order to guarantee the equality of all official
languages within the Union in future?

Answer given by Mr Bolkestein on behalf of the Commission

(28 October 2002)

The Honourable Member refers to the judgment given by the Court of Justice on 12 September 2000
(case C-366/98) in which the Court ruled that Community law precludes a national provision from
requiring the use of a specific language for the labelling of foodstuffs, without allowing for the possibility
for another language easily understood by purchasers to be used or for the purchaser to be informed by
other means.

With regard to the reasoned opinion sent to France, the Commission was simply applying this judgment,
which forms part of the consistent case-law delivered by the Court of Justice to ensure the free movement
of goods in the internal market.

The Commission considers that this judgment does not represent a violation of the principle of equality
between the various languages and that it does take into account the principles of subsidiarity and
proportionality. In fact, both Community legislation and the aforementioned case-law emphasise that the
prime consideration for any national rules on the labelling of foodstuffs should be to inform and protect
the consumer. Use of the national language does of course guarantee that this is the case.

However, national rules which only provided for the exclusive use of the national language, without
allowing for the possibility for another language easily understood by purchasers to be used or for the
purchaser to be informed by other means, go beyond what is required to protect the consumer in erecting
an unjustified barrier to intra-Community trade in the products concerned, and could even, in certain
cases, undermine the objective of informing the consumer.

(2003/C 92 E/258) WRITTEN QUESTION E-2686/02


by Mihail Papayannakis (GUE/NGL) to the Commission

(26 September 2002)

Subject: Contaminated bottled water

Research carried out by the Swiss Food Monitoring Laboratory on behalf of the Swiss Government has
found viruses in eleven European brands of bottled water which are responsible for many cases of gastro-
enteritis. In view of the fact that the samples which showed positive for traces of viruses came from water
bottled in Switzerland, Italy and France, but which are sold throughout the European Union, could the
Commission say whether it is aware of this research? Does it believe that these results are a cause for
concern and, if so, does it intend to take any action?
17.4.2003 EN Official Journal of the European Union C 92 E/199

Answer given by Mr Byrne on behalf of the Commission

(7 November 2002)

In April 2002 a laboratory of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (1) published scientific studies (2)
which had found traces of Norwalk-like viruses in several natural mineral waters from various Member
States, attracting extensive media coverage in Belgium, France and the Netherlands for several days. The
Commission, in conjunction with the Member States’ monitoring authorities, looked at whether these
studies gave reason to suspect a possible viral contamination of the natural mineral waters concerned and
whether they pointed to a possible public health risk.

The Commission is particularly interested in research of this type.

This publication followed up research work on the detection of Norwalk viruses in waters, particularly
natural mineral waters, which had been going on for nearly five years. A first paper (3) on this subject was
published by the same laboratory in October 2000. A network of seven European research laboratories
then undertook further research into the detection of Norwalk viruses in natural mineral waters, without
finding any evidence of a public health risk.

The Commission also consulted the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health
(SCVPH) about the public health risk associated with the possible contamination of food or water by
Norwalk viruses, which are the main cause of non-bacterial gastroenteritis. The Committee’s opinion (4)
mentions the Swiss study, but states that its results need to be confirmed by further scientific work before
it can be concluded that there may be a public health risk.

The Commission is of the opinion that the research findings published in April 2002 do not constitute
evidence of a possible risk to public health.

Directive 80/777/EEC (5) stipulates that natural mineral waters must be protected against all contamination.
It does not make provision for any compulsory virological research, but establishes microbiological criteria
for the detection of any faecal contamination. It also states that natural mineral waters must be free from
all pathogenic micro-organisms (including pathogenic viruses).

The Swiss study did in fact find traces of genetic material from Norwalk viruses by using molecular biology
analysis methods which can detect very small quantities of viruses. On the other hand, these methods do
not provide any indication of the viability or infectiousness of the viruses detected. Additional research,
not carried out as part of this study, would be needed in order to be able to establish whether there is any
risk of infection. Furthermore, the Swiss study did not reveal any microbiological contamination, and
hence no faecal contamination, of the mineral waters tested.

This research therefore does not lead to the conclusion, at this stage, that certain natural mineral waters
are contaminated by Norwalk viruses in a manner likely to present a public health risk. Nor have the
European Union’s epidemiological surveillance networks as yet reported any gastroenteritis epidemics  of
bacterial or viral origin  which might be linked to the consumption of bottled water.

(1) Cantonal Food Laboratory, Solothurn (Switzerland).


(2) Norwalk-like virus sequences in natural mineral waters: one year monitoring of three brands, in Applied and
Environmental Microbiology, April 2002, by C. Beuret et al.
(3) Norwalk-like virus sequences detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction in mineral waters
imported into or bottled in Switzerland, in Journal of Food Protection, October 2000, by C. Beuret et al.
(4) Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health (SCVPH) adopted on
30 January 2002.
(5) Council Directive 80/777/EEC of 15 July 1980 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to
the exploitation and marketing of natural mineral waters, OJ L 229, 30.8.1980, most recently amended by Directive
96/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 October 1996, OJ L 299, 23.11.1996.