In a decision with ramifications for local authorities around the country, the Court of Appeal has ruled South Taranaki District Council’s proposal to fluoridate its water supply is lawful.
The decision follows court action by a lobby group, New Health, in the High Court and Court of Appeal, where it claimed that local authorities had no right to put fluoride in water supplies.
The group also claimed that adding fluoride to water supplies breached the New Zealand Bill of Rights.
In its decision today, the Court of Appeal ruled both local government and health legislation allowed councils to add fluoride to water supplies.
It said that parts of the country had been doing that since 1956.
Regarding the Bill of Rights claim, the Court of Appeal said that “medical treatment’ meant treatment received in a direct therapeutic relationship, such as from a doctor, rather than broader public health measures such as water fluoridation.
South Taranaki mayor Ross Dunlop said he believed New Health thought it could bully a small council into dropping its fluoridation plans, and he was pleased the council had won its case.
The legal battle cost about $250,000 but, because it was an issue of national interest, the Ministry of Health had helped fund the case, he said.
Mr Dunlop said it was disappointing that the council had spent four years fighting a court battle when that time could have been spent fluoridating the water, and improving local dental health.
About half the area’s water supply was already fluoridated and the benefits of that were readily apparent, he said.
Dentists were able to easily tell which of their patients lived in areas with fluoridated water, and which did not, he said.
Ministry of Health Welcomes Ruling
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it was pleased with the judgment because it reinforced the lawful powers of local authorities to fluoridate water supplies.
It said the Court of Appeal had also reinforced the earlier ruling by the High Court that fluoride was not a medicine when added to water supplies.
A spokesperson for the ministry said fluoride occurred naturally in water supplies, but levels were generally low in New Zealand compared to other countries, meaning additional fluoridation was needed to generate optimum health results.
Meanwhile, Lisa Hansen, who was part of New Health’s legal team, said the organisation was still studying the decision.
She said it was highly likely that leave would be sought to take a further appeal to the Supreme Court.