Ministry firm on fluoride despite one more rebuff

By Jarrod Booker

Another town's rejection of fluoridated water has not deterred the Ministry of Health from seeking blanket coverage throughout New Zealand.

The mid-Canterbury town of Ashburton knocked back the proposal to introduce fluoride to its town water supply this week. In a district council referendum, 55 per cent voted against it.

Elsewhere in New Zealand, the issue continues to generate heated debate.

Last year, Wanganui also rejected fluoridation with a 74 per cent majority.

But Hamilton residents decided in a referendum to keep it.

The Far North towns of Kaikohe and Kaitaia will soon have fluoridated water in a two-year trial, despite strong opposition from many residents.

The Ministry of Health says fluoridated water has been proven to reduce tooth decay and it will continue lobbying to have it introduced in areas without it.

Opponents say fluoride poses serious health risks.

Anti-fluoride campaigner Don Church said he was not surprised at the ministry's stance.

"People have made their careers on promoting fluoridation. It is part of the fabric of their being. Even if they were convinced it was harmful, they would expose themselves to liability claims."

The ministry's chief adviser on oral health, Robin Whyman, said the policy was that fluoridated water was a safe and effective way to reduce tooth decay.

Studies had shown 20 to 30 per cent less decay in children who drank fluoridated water, Dr Whyman said.

"It's important to remember that 57 per cent of New Zealand people who are drinking reticulated water are drinking water with fluoridation, and it remains an important and core part of maintaining oral health in New Zealand."

Dr Whyman said the ministry would not give up on areas that had rejected fluoride in their water.

Getting 100 per cent coverage would be difficult because of the cost of introducing it to small water supplies, but the ministry wanted it as widely used as possible.

"Admittedly there is a long distance between 57 per cent coverage and 100 per cent coverage. But if we look elsewhere for examples, in New South Wales more than 90 per cent of the population is drinking fluoridated water."

Far North fluoride opponent Jackie Pou said a petition of 2500 signatures had been gathered to oppose the fluoridation trial in her area.

A public meeting was planned in Kaitaia on Monday night.

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