MPs are expecting furious opposition to proposals on fluoridated drinking water as public hearings kick off this week.
The first select committee hearings will be held tomorrow on the Government’s plan to transfer the responsibility for fluoridating water from councils to district health boards (DHBs).
In a rare move, Parliament’s Health Committee has agreed to hear from every individual or organisation that asked to make an oral submission.
In total, 60 organisations and 140 individuals are expected to give presentations, and the committee will be broken up into sub-committees in order to hear them all.
“The committee felt that hearing from everyone on this was important,” committee chairman and National MP Simon O’Connor said.
“It’s a passionate topic. People feel very strongly about it and we thought … the best way to manage that was to allow them to be heard.”
Most of the submissions to the committee were against the law change, O’Connor said.
At present, territorial authorities decide whether to fluoridate the local water supply.
At last count, just 27 out of 67 of them had decided to add fluoride to their water. That is despite overwhelming scientific evidence that fluoridation is a highly effective, low-cost public health initiative. Research by the Royal Society of New Zealand found there was 40 per cent less tooth decay in regions where water supplies contained fluoride.
The bill being considered by Parliament aims to shift the responsibility for fluoridation from politicians to health professionals, while maintaining some democratic input through the elected DHBs.
Introducing the bill in December, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said fluoridation had become an increasingly contentious issue for local authorities, some of whom had removed fluoride from their water supply after lobbying by “vocal minorities”.
“Remarkably, members of these groups apparently always know more that those at the top of their fields in science, academia, professional associations, and healthwork associations globally.”
Dunne was scathing about those who opposed fluoridation, describing them as “tinfoil-hat wearing, UFO-abducted, anti-fluoride campaigners”.
He said there was “nothing left to debate”, adding “it is over – science has won”.
The bill is supported by all parties except New Zealand First, which opposes it on the grounds that it reduces democratic input. The party wants all councils to hold a referendum to decide their policy.
Aside from the scientific basis for fluoridation, there could also be some debate about who should pay for adding fluoride to the water supply.
Under the proposed changes, DHBs will be able to order councils to fluoridate but will not have to cover the costs of it.
Local Government New Zealand is generally supportive of relieving councils of the responsibility for making decisions about fluoridation, but wants that responsibility to lie with the Director General of Health, rather than DHBs.
Fluoridation in NZ
• 27 out of 67 councils fluoridate their water supply
• 54 per cent of population have un-fluoridated water
• 40 per cent of 5 year-olds have tooth decay
– NZ Herald