The High Court has affirmed the right of local government to fluoridate drinking water.
In a decision released today, Justice Rodney Hansen threw out claims from anti-fluoride campaigners who disputed the South Taranaki District Council's decision add fluoride to drinking water in Waverley and Patea.
The campaign group, New Health New Zealand, applied to review the council's decision.
The court rejected the application on all grounds.
Justice Hansen said the purpose of local government was to enable democratic local decision-making and action by and on behalf of communities.
It was within the council's legal power, and right mind, to add fluoride to drinking water, he said.
Murray Thomson, professor of dental epidemiology and public health at the University of Otago, said the judgment was "sensible" and "affirmed the important role of community water fluoridation in keeping New Zealanders healthy".
Justice Hansen quoted a decision from a case in the Illinois Supreme Court: "Fluoridation programmes, even if considered to be medication in the true sense of the word, are so necessarily and reasonably related to the common good that the rights of the individual must give way."
He drew analogies between fluoridation and the use of chlorine, which is an accepted public health treatment of drinking water.
"The addition of iodine to salt, folic acid to bread and the pasteurisation of milk are, in my view, equivalent intervention made to achieve public health benefits by means which could not be achieved nearly as effectively by medicating the populace individually."
A person who did not want to consume fluoride could choose to supply their own drinking water or filter out fluoride.
David Sloan, Chairman of New Health New Zealand Inc, said in a statement that New Health "respectfully disagrees" with the High Court’s decision and will appeal.
In particular, New Health disagrees with the view that fluoridation is not a medical treatment for the purposes of the Bill of Rights.
"In today’s consumer-enlightened era, people should have the choice whether or not to ingest something that has a claimed therapeutic purpose," Sloan said.
"Delivering medication this way is contrary to medical ethics as it fails to control for dose, individual need and sensitivities, and overrides individual consent."
Fluoride was first added to New Zealand drinking water in Hastings in 1954. Forty-eight per cent of the New Zealand population now live in communities with water fluoridation programmes.
Jonathan Broadbent, a public health dentistry specialist at the University of Otago, said: "The decision reaffirms the legal basis of the scientifically sound practice of community water fluoridation.
"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."
The naturally occurring fluoride level in New Zealand water supplies is usually between 0.1 parts per million and 0.3ppm. Fluoride content for drinking water in New Zealand is in the range of 0.7 - 1.0ppm. The maximum acceptable value for fluoride is 1.5ppm (parts per million).
Should fluoride in water be the responsibility of central government?