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Coca-Cola recalls UK bottled water

Labeled "pure," Dasani was criticized in the British press when it was revealed it was purified tap water.

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Coca-Cola Company

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The Coca-Cola Company has recalled its entire Dasani range of bottled water in Britain after levels of bromate -- a derivative of bromine -- were found to exceed UK legal standards.

Britain's food quality watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said long-term exposure to high levels of bromate can increase the risk of cancer -- though said there was no immediate risk to public health.

The recall is the second big embarrassment to Coca-Cola in the UK in the wake of the Dasani launch in Britain only weeks ago.

The announcement, described by Coca-Cola as a precautionary measure, is likely seriously to dent the company's push to break into the UK market for bottled water.

At the beginning of the month the Coca-Cola Co. was investigated by trading standards officials in Britain over the use of the word "pure" on bottles of Dasani, which sells for up to 95 pence ($1.74) for a 500 ml bottle in the UK. (Full story)

The FSA contacted the local authority covering Coca-Cola's headquarters in west London, asking it to look into whether the term breached labeling regulations.

There was criticism in the UK press when it emerged that the source for Dasani, which launched in the UK only last month, was tap water supplied to Coca-Cola's factory in southeast London -- though using tap water is not uncommon in the bottled water industry.

The recall of about 500,000 bottles of Dasani, which applies only to the British market, had already begun and would largely be completed within 24 hours, the company said in a statement.

The U.S. soft drinks giant said it had consulted the FSA which had confirmed there was "no immediate health or safety issue."

In its statement the company said: "To ensure that only products of the highest quality are provided to our consumers, Coca-Cola is voluntarily withdrawing all Dasani products currently in the marketplace in UK. The withdrawal began on Friday, 19 March 2004, and will be 80-85 per cent completed within 24 hours.

"Calcium is a legal requirement in all bottled water products in the UK, including Dasani. To deliver the required calcium, we add back calcium chloride into the product.

"Through detailed analysis, we discovered that our product did not meet our quality standards. Because of the high level of bromide contained in the calcium chloride, a derivate of bromide, bromate, was formed at a level that exceeded UK legal standards. This occurred during the ozonisation process we employ in manufacturing."

Coca-Cola announced a free consumer care line, 0800 227 711.

"Our consumers rightly expect that our products meet only the highest possible standards for quality as well as all UK regulations," the company added.

A spokeswoman for the FSA told the UK's Press Association: "This is a sensible measure by the company as bromate is a chemical that could cause an increased cancer risk as a result of long-term exposure, although there is no immediate risk to public health.

"However, the Agency understands that some consumers may choose not to drink any Dasani they purchased prior to its withdrawal, given the levels of bromate it contains."

British limits for bromate, a non-metallic salt, in bottled and tap waters are 10 parts per billion, a Coca-Cola spokesman told Reuters, and the Dasani samples had tested at between "borderline" (about 10) and 22 parts per billion. European tap water limits are 25 parts per billion.

Growth in bottled water sales is far outstripping that of other soft drinks across the globe, and Dasani rapidly became the number two U.S. brand.

Unlike spring or source waters, which are taken from one or more natural springs and purified, Dasani is essentially filtered and treated municipal mains water, except in Belgium, where the brand is a spring water.

About two out of every five bottles of water sold globally are produced in this way, Reuters reported.

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