Forum: Fall 2013

September 17, 2013

Regulating Water

I read with interest your recent piece in the Summer 2013 Duke Magazine titled “Thirst for Knowledge” and share your appreciation for the important topic of water. However, as both the general counsel of Nestlé Waters North America and an alumnus of Duke law school, I’d also like to comment about the assertion made in the article that “most bottled water...is exempt from federal regulation.”

In fact, bottled water in the U.S. is regulated as a food product by the FDA, and the FDA’s requirements for bottled water must be as protective of public health as the EPA’s regulations for municipal water. When it comes to serious contaminants like coliform bacteria, federal regulations are stronger for bottled than tap water (e.g., bottled water sources are required to be 100 percent free of coliform at all times, whereas up to 5 percent of water from municipal systems is permitted to be positive for total coliform). Moreover, our company has been, since 2005, issuing quality reports for each of our brands that are based on independent testing results, in a format that is comparable to those sent to customers of public utilities.

There is another technical point. The FDA’s jurisdiction over bottled-water products (and any other product regulated by the FDA) extends not only to those products that move in interstate commerce but also to those products sold within a single state that are enclosed in packaging materials that have moved in interstate commerce. Courts have long held that if any component of a food product moves in interstate commerce, the FDA has jurisdiction over the finished product, regardless of whether the finished product itself moves in interstate commerce.

In the case of bottled water, if the plastic used in the bottles, the plastic used in the caps, the paper and ink used on the labels, or any outer packaging materials, or even the water itself comes from out of state, then the FDA has jurisdiction over that product. Congress has recognized this by enacting a law that expressly presumes all food and beverage products are sold in interstate commerce.

The availability of healthful beverages is more important than ever, as the nation fights high rates of obesity and diabetes. Replacing one twelve-ounce, 140-calorie sugared beverage with water each day for a year can trim more than 50,000 calories a year from a person’s diet. So, water in whatever form (tap, filtered, or bottled) is, in my view, an essential ingredient in a healthy lifestyle. That’s why I felt it important to reach out and clarify the record regarding bottled water’s safety standards and regulatory oversight.

Charlie Broll J.D. ’97

New Canaan, Connecticut

Gun Violence and Partisan Politics

I was deeply impressed with the articles about guns in the Summer 2013 issue. The invaluable several-decades-long career work of Dr. Philip Cook and, more recently, the exemplary research of Kristin Goss [M.P.P. ’96], gives me great pride, and more than a little encouragement, regarding this extremely divisive subject. Pride, because this is my university, and encouragement, because their scholarly work gives me the incentive to continue to try to support fair and balanced gun-control laws. Dr. Moffit’s work adds another dimension to this very important subject, and I look forward to her research.

If we value higher education at all, and especially the quality of scholarship described in these articles, let it help us try to rise above partisan politics. Then, listening to the other most-important voices, in my view—those of the surviving victims of gun violence and their families—can only add to our efforts to try to reduce these tragedies. Jim Brady and his remarkable wife have tried so hard to be heard. (Several armed guards could not help Jim or the president and two law-enforcement personnel from being shot then, or President Kennedy before them.) Then Gabby Giffords and her “gun-rights husband,” both strong believers in the Second Amendment, simply ask for reasonable laws and regulations. (A lawful gun owner appeared at her shooting but could not determine the perpetrator in time. Only the murderer’s pause to reload brought him down.)

Statistics taken from both sides of this argument can support different points of view. The one overriding fact that cannot be denied is that the great majority of the American people want some form of universal background checks. This includes many law-abiding gun owners. Sadly, this great majority lost in our Congress last spring. Thousands shared Dr. Cook’s disappointment in that vote, but his dedication invigorates people like me to contact my local, state, and congressional representatives again and again, and to continue my support for the Giffords’ and the Bradys’ efforts.

We all have sources we follow for our attempts to be well informed. From the media, I seek balanced debates where possible and as many well-researched articles as I can find. However, as a churchgoer, a social worker, a mother, and a grandmother, I think the most important voices are those from Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. They lack the political power and money behind the gun lobby and industry, but they have the moral high ground for me. And now I can add eloquent voices from my university. I am so proud to be a graduate of Duke.

(Full disclosure: I was not a full supporter of Duke in the ’50s and early ’60s, due to the racial admission barriers. What a long way Duke has come on that matter. And, three cheers for the “Moral Monday” efforts!)

Mary Lee Robinson Berridge ’54

Larchmont, New York

Transformations

Re: Mohamed Noor’s online class: It was a great experience for me. To me, the biggest advantage of the online classes is you can begin to stretch yourself and not be stuck in one discipline. For me, I came in with a Comp Sci background and came out of it with a slightly different view of even my own chosen field.... I see it as a way of broadening skills even in this age of specialization.

Colin Hay, on “The Classroom Experience Re-Imagined,” by Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Jr. Professor and chair of biology, via the Duke Magazine website

Thank you for this appreciation of Wallace Fowlie. I had the good fortune to take both his Proust in translation and Inferno courses. I had dinner at his apartment, and we discussed whether literary criticism was real knowledge or not. I still don’t know the answer to this, but I’m not surprised that he touched the lives of many others.

JC, on “A Spiritual Awakening,” by Stephen Martin ’95, via the Duke Magazine website.

I am a firm believer in what the human spirit can overcome and accomplish, no matter the circumstances.... [H]ere is the proof.... God bless you, Jay.

Sue, on “Plans Disrupted, Plans Recast,” by Jay Ruckelshaus ’16, via the Duke Magazine website

WOW: If you have been dealing with insecurity or issues with self-confidence and self-determination, then you should read this story. Not only will you realize your blessings, but you will be inspired by this young man. He overcame the odds to accomplish something great. It certainly put me to shame.

Jonathan Oh ’08, on “Plans Disrupted, Plans Recast,” by Jay Ruckelshaus ’16, via the Duke Magazine Facebook page

I have often found that the most powerful and empowering thing we can do is to really listen. This skill is often overlooked and undervalued in our fastpaced society. And yet, in diffusing even violent situations, the technique I have found that really makes a difference is for all parties to know that they have been heard and that their opinions and perspectives matter. I am glad you discovered it so early in your academic and professional life.

Peg Helminsky, on “Listening Lessons,” by Joy Liu ’14, via the Duke Magazine website

Update

When last we talked to Paul Holmbeck ’83 (May-June 2004), he had found a way to transfer the community-organizing skills he honed in Durham to advocating for organic food in Denmark, where he lives with his family.

“Whether it’s a farmer in Denmark or a low-income family in the West End [neighborhood], it’s really just about paying attention,” he told the magazine. “What is it that they want and need in order to achieve their dreams? And what is in the way of their getting it?”

As director of Organic Denmark/Økologisk Lands-
forening, Holmbeck has helped his adopted country become the global leader in organic food production, consumption, and sales. Organic Denmark is a member organization that includes 120 food companies and 800 organic farmers; its food-producing members represent 90 percent of all Danish organic food production. Organic Denmark also works with supermarket chains on marketing strategies and through political lobbying to encourage policies related to organic market development and research.

Working closely with the Danish government, Holmbeck says Organic Denmark is aiming to have organic food account for 60 percent of food produced in the public sector (schools, hospitals) and to double the amount of land used for organic farming by 2020.

Lars Aarø

Corrections

In Life’s Broad Sea [Special Issue 2013], American Journal Experts cofounder Vadim Polikov’s last name is misspelled. We apologize for the error.

In our Special Issue 2013, the concert photograph on the contents page showed the Duke Wind Symphony performing in concert, with D. Kern Holoman ’69 conducting.