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Nongfu Spring to sue over quality claims

By WANG XIAODONG  (China Daily)

08:02, May 07, 2013

Zhong Shanshan, chairman of Nongfu Spring, is interrupted by a Beijing Times reporter as the two argue about water standards during a news conference in Beijing on Monday. Zou Hong / China Daily

Reports said production of firm's water was suspended in Beijing | Previous News: Nongfu Spring's barreled water suspended

Nongfu Spring, one of China's biggest bottled water companies, is attempting to sue The Beijing Times over reports that its products fail to meet national standards.

In an online statement on Monday, the company said it is seeking 60 million yuan ($9.7 million) in damages from the paper, which it accuses of defamation.

Zhong Shanshan, chairman of Nongfu Spring, appeared at a news conference in the afternoon that descended into a war of words with reporters from The Beijing Times, who insisted reports about the water quality had been "factual" and "well-grounded".

An unidentified female manager with the company, who also appeared at the briefing, did not answer questions directly about the legal action, but would only confirm a lawsuit has been filed with a Beijing court and it is awaiting acceptance.

The dispute has raged since April 10, when The Beijing Times published a report that said Nongfu Spring, whose sales of bottled water account for 20 percent of the domestic market, did not meet the national water quality standard, and instead adhered to a lower standard set by Zhejiang province, where the company is based.

On its bottles' label, Nongfu Spring quotes DB33/383-2005, the Zhejiang standard, but not the updated national standard, despite its products being available nationwide.

Some Zhejiang quality standard indexes are considered less strict, which have caused doubt as local standards are required to be stricter than national standards, according to regulations.

One example is on the permitted amount of toxic arsenic, where no more than 0.01 milligrams per liter is the national standard, but the allowed maximum amount is 0.05 mg/liter according to Zhejiang standards, which are followed by Nongfu Spring.

Nongfu Spring's chairman Zhong said on Monday: "We didn't label national standards on our product because they are mandatory, and we are also supervised by national standards in production."

The company has been adopting several standards for bottled water products, he said, including a national standard on the sanitation of bottled drinking water, a national standard on tap water and a quality standard on bottled drinking water made in Zhejiang.

"When there are different requirements for a same index in these standards, we always choose the strictest requirement," Zhong said.

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