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Organic Water: A New Marketing Wave

A funny thing happened at the Fancy Food Show in Washington the other day.

We were cruising through the various food exhibits from around the world, checking out the latest goodies, including gluten-free snacks, quinoa in a bag, and relaxation drinks, and then we came upon the food display from Wales.

Perched on a white tablecloth we noticed some very sleek water bottles, labeled Illanllyr SOURCE. A serious guy named Eric Ewell eagerly offered us a taste, "Try this pristine organic water." We choked back a giggle. Organic? Really?

As the company's website says, "Illanllyr ... comes from our sources beneath certified organic fields in west Wales in the UK." So, Ewell says, the water has never been tainted with chemicals, making it organic as it as it emerges from the ground.

OK, so the soil above the water source is organic. We get that. But the water itself, organic? Maybe it's time to separate out the marketing buzz words from the science.

Remember the properties of water? H2O means each molecule of water contains two atoms of hydrogen (H) joined to one atom of oxygen (O). In order for something to be organic — as in alive — it needs carbon. So water, by definition is inorganic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which defines the term organic when it comes to agricultural products in this country, specifically excludes water and salt. Table salt, or NaCl, is made up of sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl). No carbon there, either, folks.

"This is kind of silly. Of course, people can buy and sell what they want, but this is an example that people know so little about water," Charles Fishman tells Shots. He's the author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

Illanllyr isn't the only one using the term organic loosely. A quick Google search turns up dozens of brands of waters claiming to be organic. "Marketing water this way doesn't make it look special," Fishman says. "Let's go with cosmic water — it all came from space in the first place — how about selling it that way," Fishman quips.

Clean, pristine, and cosmic. Now that's catchy. Try that for a label.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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