Dunedin city councillors have questioned whether a public referendum might be needed to decide the future of the city’s fluoridated water supply, after dozens of submissions calling for an end to the practice.
Cr Paul Hudson, speaking at yesterday’s annual plan hearing, asked council staff to report back on the cost of holding a city-wide referendum as part of this year’s local body elections.
He wanted the information in time to consider next week, when councillors deliberated on their draft budget, in case the council was ”of a mind” to seek ratepayers’ views on fluoride.
Councillors considering more than 250 public submissions on the document this week have received 34 on fluoride – more than on any other single subject.
Most argued against the use of fluoride, which was added to about 85% of Dunedin’s drinking water and which health officials credited with improving dental health in the city.
Others suggested the council should at least provide alternative tap supplies for those not wanting fluoridated drinking water.
Opponents included Russel McLean, a Green Island dentist, who yesterday told councillors most of the world either avoided or had abandoned the practice.
Concerns about health consequences, coupled with the inability to control dosage, meant ”the ethics and morality of fluoridating water are just indefensible”.
”There’s no consent sought from the people who are drinking the water, and there’s no choice, either,” he said.
Asked by Cr Kate Wilson whether a public referendum, or alternative non-fluoridated supplies, might be needed, Mr McLean said either was better than the current approach.
Cr Richard Thomson wanted the debate to proceed but worried a public referendum would only increase the ”sloganeering” that surrounded the issue.
”It does seem to be the case that those opposed to fluoride think the argument can be won by weight of page numbers.”
Councillors ruled out a city-wide referendum in 2008, when the fluoridation debate last erupted in Dunedin.