Hamilton may go to referendum on fluoride

Last updated 16:36 13/06/2013

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Waikato District Health Board member and Hamilton councillor Ewan Wilson is pushing for a binding referendum on fluoridation of the city's water.

He hopes a public referendum will lead to the council overturning the decision.

Wilson, who said he was warned by lawyers not to participate in the tribunal which voted to end fluoridation, circulated a notice of motion among city councillors today that would force the council to debate whether it should hold a referendum.

Wilson said the controversial decision had been hijacked by the anti-fluoride lobby and it was not what the majority of Hamiltonians wanted.

"The anti-fluoride position are mostly well-meaning individuals that have misinterpreted the science," he said.

"And then there's a group of nutters who are convinced this is mass-medication.

"There is considerable good science that shows fluoridation is a good base for public health. I believe the majority of people in Hamilton want fluoridation and they should have the final say."

However the co-ordinator of Fluoride Free Hamilton, Pat McNair, said a referendum was unnecessary.

"A tribunal is a robust process where reasoned evidence from both sides can be given," she said.

"A referendum is just people's opinion in the street.

"The others [councillors who voted against fluoridation] in their summary gave very good reasons why a referendum would not work."

McNair said she would only accept a referendum if lobbies from both sides of the argument had equal amount of money to campaign with, as education cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

She also said accusations the lobby had hijacked the decision were ridiculous.

"I have never heard of 99 per cent of them," she said.

"This is not an orchestrated effort. There were 1385 people who said stop it [fluoridation]. I wish we had numbers like that."

The prime minister's chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, today made the same points as Wilson to describe how the tribunal of eight councillors voted 7-1 to end fluoridation after four days of hearings.

More than half of the submissions were made pro-forma where submitters added their names and sign a pre-written submission form.

Gluckman told Radio New Zealand that the Hamilton debate was hijacked by a misinterpretation of science. He said that the science of fluoride in water was settled and the debate was a question of values in society, not the science.

McNair said it was shocking the prime minister's science advisor made the comments.

''He is spouting policy," she said.

"I know a number of other highly reputable professionals who personally sent him print outs of scientific work and they never had a response. I do not believe he has read them which is why it is shocking that he would say something like that."

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Wilson said advice from democratic services staff was that because he wasn't seeking to overturn a council decision, he didn't need the usual five signatures on the notice.

He said several colleagues, all tribunal members, refused to sign it.

As long as a decision was made at the July 4 council meeting the referendum could piggy-back on October elections and cost less than $20,000, he said.

Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Felicity Dumble has previously said that she would like to see the decision, heavily criticised by dentists and doctors but celebrated by fluoridation opponents, reversed.

- Waikato

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