Vittel, or how to claim sovereignty of water

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Vittel, the bottled water brand comes as an odd case study in considering the impact of intensive agriculture on water and food sovereignty.

Beginning in 1854, exploitation of the groundwaters of the city of Vittel in Vosges, France, showed a stable nitrates concentration at 4mg/L. In the 1980s, this concentration doubled as pastures had been replaced by corn to feed more cattle. Field were now plowed, and nitrates combined with pesticides were spilled on this sieve-like soil. In 1989, INRA State funded scientists were commissioned to plan a sustainable way, with farmers approvement, to lower nitrates concentration in Vittel water during the following years. As Nestlé took over Vittel in 1992, the subsidiary company Agrivair was created to apply their plan: fields were bought to farmers in contract, so that they would keep their land while shifting toward long growing crops and pastures, using no pesticides nor fertilizers, with less than 1 cow per hectare. After 20 years, nitrate concentration was back to normal: Nestlé was relieved.

As former Nestlé CEO P. Brabeck said, “water is a food, and like any food, it should have a market value.” From Maine, USA to Lahore, Pakistan, Nestlé exploits water in numerous cities with 72 brands around the World. They sometimes take this resource from populations, as they extract it from the same groundwater that are used for tap water and wells — often with inequitable permits, pressing on the promise of employment in the region.

In Vittel too, citizens complained last year about over-exploitation of their shared groundwater. Nestlé’s answer was to offer the funding of pipelines bringing water to Vittel from neighbouring areas — thus keeping their high bottled water production. Priority on water use was granted to Nestlé Waters over the inhabitant after a dubious public consultation, in which jobs were threatened.
In June 2019, Nestlé announced the suppression of 10% of jobs in Vittel’s factory until 2022.

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