Ruling revives fluoride debate

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 09:00 08/03/2014

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A High Court ruling that councils are acting within their powers when they add fluoride to water supplies to help prevent dental decay revives the need for Palmerston North to decide whether it should stay or go.

Mayor Jono Naylor said the fluoridation debate was put on hold pending the outcome of New Health New Zealand's call for a ruling that South Taranaki's fluoridation of the Patea and Waverley water supplies was illegal.

The argument was that fluoride was being used as a medical treatment, breaching people's right to refuse such treatment.

Justice Rodney Hansen rejected the arguments in a decision released yesterday, drawing a distinction between medical treatment, and actions taken that had therapeutic benefits for a community.

"The evidence satisfies me that fluoridation is within the range of reasonable alternatives available to Parliament to address the problem of dental decay, particularly in low socio-economic areas," Justice Hansen said.

Mr Naylor said while the decision confirmed that the city council was acting legally in fluoridating the city's water, there would still have to be a debate about whether to continue.

The draft Annual Plan, which goes out for public consultation next month, highlights approaches the council has had from people who want fluoridation to stop, and others who want it to stay.

Mr Naylor said waiting to hear what submissions came in as part of the Annual Plan consultation would be the first step.

After that, it would reconsider a report from waste and water services manager Rob Green outlining its options.

"That's about whether to consult, have a referendum, have a tribunal, or just decide."

Former mayor Paul Rieger, who was instrumental in convincing the council to introduce fluoridation in 1962, said a referendum would be a cop-out.

The council should make the decision to keep on fluoridating, because, apart from a minority, scientists and dentists were convinced of the benefits, he said.

He said fluoridation worked, and was safe, and the only argument there could be was about whether it infringed on people's civil liberties to provide a form of medication they did not want.

Fluoride Action New Zealand spokeswoman Mary Byrne said she was surprised by the ruling, and alarmed that it could open the door for local authorities to add other elements to water for therapeutic reasons.

Public health dentistry specialist at the University of Otago, Jonathan Broadbent, said the court decision reaffirmed the legal basis of the scientifically sound practice of community water fluoridation.

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"The people of New Zealand have the right to benefit from this effective public health practice.

"Community water fluoridation benefits everyone, especially those New Zealanders who are disadvantaged."

- Manawatu Standard

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