Fluoride is to be added to the water supply of Southampton – the first city in 40 years to adopt the policy. The decision has caused huge controversy in the south coast town. This is a key victory for those who believe in adding fluoride to the water and other cities are expected to follow suit, with Bristol among those looking to do so. While a lot of people think their supplies are fluoridated, only five million people live in areas where they are, mainly in the West Midlands and the east of England. For years ministers have wanted to see fluoridation expanded beyond the areas currently covered by natural and artificial schemes. But water companies were reluctant to fluoridate for fear of being sued and did not want responsibility for public health decisions. So the government brought in new legislation in 2003 to give the 28 strategic health authorities, rather than the water companies, the final say over whether fluoride should be added to the supply.
The health authorities now have the power to compel water companies – which will be indemnified against any legal liabilities – to put fluoride in the mains supply, though they are required to consult the local community before they do so. A consultation exercise found that around 75 per cent of the 200,000 residents were opposed to the plan -but they were overruled. After all, they only have to drink the water. All that was required was that a consultation was carried out: the local health authority did not have to abide by its findings. This is a travesty of local democracy.
Proponents maintain that since fluoride appears to reduce the incidence of dental caries and there is no evidence it is harmful, why should anyone object? Opponents say the risks from fluoride are unknown, the science is questionable and those studies that have been carried out have been equivocal in their conclusions about safety. I say that if people want to protect their teeth they should use fluoride toothpaste. Medication, beneficial or otherwise, should not be added to the water supply at all.
However it is dressed up, fluoridation is enforced mass medication and it is possible to object to such a programme whether you think it is good for you or not. The Government acknowledged this by allowing a free vote when the measure went through Parliament; but, in reality, ministers favour a move to wider fluoridation as part of their nanny state agenda.
Philip Johnston has been with the Daily Telegraph for 20 years. He is currently assistant editor and leader writer and was previously home affairs editor and chief political correspondent. He writes a weekly column, appearing in Monday’s newspaper, called Home Front which looks at all those irritating laws, regulations and Whitehall idiocies that make life today so much harder than it need be.