Irate bottled water producers have called on Defra minister Phil Woolas to retract a claim that bottled water is "daft".
The comment was made in an interview for an episode of Panorama, which will examine issues surrounding bottled water.
Although, the show does not air until Monday night (18 February), Woolas was shown making the claim in a trailer this week - incurring the wrath of industry body the Bottled Water Information Office (BWIO).
"We find this comment from a minister about a responsible industry both unacceptable and misguided," said Liz Bastone, spokeswoman for the BWIO, set up last year to represent UK bottled water suppliers. "Mr Woolas did not think bottled water was daft when the government was desperate for bottled water during the 2007 floods. The industry immediately responded with millions of bottles. His comments go completely against other government advice on the benefits of drinking water and the role of bottled water in society."
The Grocer has learnt Woolas will also use the Panorama interview to brand the amount of money spent in the UK on bottled water as bordering on "morally unacceptable" and urge consumers to switch back to tap water.
He will also highlight the environmental impact of buying water packaged in plastic or glass that has been transported over hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles. However, BWIO argued that work was ongoing to lessen the environmental impact and there was now 30% less packaging for bottled water than 15 years ago. Meanwhile, recycling rates had grown by 40% year-on-year.
Environmental scientist Dr Ian Dodkins, an expert in freshwater sciences at the University of Ulster, defended bottled water production. "Bottled water can be a sustainable resource and there are environmental considerations also in the production of tap water," said Dodkins. "Indeed, people are less likely to waste bottled water as it is used entirely for drinking as opposed to watering the garden, flushing the toilet or washing the car."