Two Californian nonprofits have filed an injunctive relief against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to comply to their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the actions of global food giant, Nestle. Story of Stuff Project and Courage Campaign Institute are suing the FDA for not properly managing the accounts of Nestle. The company has been pumping tens of millions of gallons of fresh water from a California creek to sell as bottled water. According to the plaintiffs, Nestle has been monopolizing the fresh water supply in the state — which is known for its disastrous droughts and frequent water shortage. (Related: Drought apocalypse begins in California as wells run dry.)
Nestle allegedly only pays the federal government a paltry $524 a year to divert water from the forest. The water collected ends up being sold as Arrowhead bottled spring water.
In their complaint filed in the District of Columbia, the FOIA was written March 27, 2017 which requested for all financial and management records of Nestle Waters North America. The FOIA was confirmed to be received on April 3, 2017, with the FDA given a 30-day deadline to complete the request. However, the FDA denied the request for expedited processing on April 20, 2017. After the said date, the plaintiffs say that their request was taken through several processes which effectively delayed its completion. As of July 11, the FDA has not made any determination on the status of the record request.
The FDA has denied to comment, when asked by reporters from Courthouse News.
Tim Brown, Nestle Waters North America’s CEO, however, spoke of the situation in a candid interview on California public radio station KPCC last May. Brown was recorded as saying, “The fact is, if I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy another brand of bottled water. People need to hydrate. As the second-largest bottler in the state, we’re filling a role many others are filling. It’s driven by consumer demand; it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate. Frankly, we’re very happy they are doing it in a healthier way.”
Spokespeople from Story of Stuff Project and Courage Campaign Institute argue vociferously that capitalism should not trump long-term environmental effects. Both groups want the Swiss food and drink company to stop their water collection process in Strawberry Creek, especially for an amount that is next to nothing to the billions of dollars Nestle receives annually in generated revenue.
“The [FDA’s] violation of law has denied plaintiffs the information to which they are entitled, and plaintiffs and their members are injured by its inability to protect the San Bernardino National Forest, and by the deprivation of government documents to which they are entitled,” the complaint reads.
An official statement by Nestle describes the company as a “water steward in California” and that they have, in response to the injunction, “cooperated with the State Water Resources Control Board’s request for documents and information.”
This is not the first skirmish the two nonprofits have had with Nestle. In October 2015, the duo sued the U.S. Forest Service in California for renewing Nestle’s permit which had, supposedly, expired almost 30 years previously. The move allowed Nestle to continue diminishing the already-drained water supply in California.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has noted, nevertheless, that after more than five years of drought in California, the state is no longer in a state of emergency. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Executive Order B-40-17 which officially ended the drought state of emergency in all Californian counties except for Tulare, Toulumne, Kings, and Fresno.