PARIS -- Source Perrier will replace the label on its sparkling water in Europe because it doesn't meet European Community criteria for naturally carbonated water, officials said.
The label that describes Perrier as ''Naturally Carbonated'' will be replaced in Europe on Nov. 1 with one reading ''Natural Mineral Water Fortified With Gas From the Spring.''
This marks the third label change in six months for Perrier. Earlier this year, traces of benzene were discovered in some bottles, leading to a worldwide recall of 160 million bottles. Labels for bottles produced after the recall carried the words ''New Production'' to distinguish them from the earlier vintage.
It was discovered that a dirty filter on a gas line caused the contamination.
Then in April, Perrier and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed that the word ''naturally'' would be dropped from the label reading ''Naturally Sparkling Mineral Water.''
British Deputy Food Minister David Maclean praised the change in Europe as a victory for European consumers. ''Similar changes in labeling had already been agreed for the U.S. market and it is right that U.K. consumers should also have the same treatment,'' he said.
The U.S. changes will occur in late October, said Jane Lazgin, spokeswoman for Perrier Group of America Inc. of Greenwich, Conn., the company's U.S. distributor.
The latest labeling change developed after the British government filed a complaint with the EC's executive commission alleging that Perrier's labeling violated EC regulations and misled consumers.
The dispute arose from the way Perrier produces its water, said British officials and Peter Thomas, Perrier's international marketing director.
Carbon dioxide gas occurs naturally at the Perrier spring at Vergeze in southern France. Perrier normally separates the water from the gas underground and pipes them separately to the bottling plant. They are remixed during the bottling process.
Thomas said Perrier adds additional gas to the water by drilling deeper into the spring and tapping pockets of natural carbon dioxide.
That gas forms perhaps a little under half of the carbon dioxide bubbles in a bottle, Thomas estimated. ''It is a naturally sparkling mineral water,'' Thomas said. ''We also reinforce that with gas from deeper in the spring.''
But the EC's rules state that the term ''naturally carbonated'' applies only to waters containing the same gas they had in the spring.
The Nov. 1 change affects the 12-nation European Community, about 60 percent of Perrier's market, Thomas said.
Perrier's sales fell sharply after the FDA discovered benzene in February. But the company quickly regained the lost sales this spring. Sales are at 75 percent of their level last winter, Thomas said, while in France, Perrier sold more bottles in July this year than in July 1989.