The approach some public health officials take to the fluoride debate is too ideological, and they may lose the argument through a lack of engagement, Southern District Health Board member Richard Thomson warns.
Mr Thomson, who is also a Dunedin city councillor, was speaking at the community and public health committee meeting in Invercargill this week.
”What’s happening is the battle is being lost. It will, in my view, be lost,” he said.
Mr Thomson said the health board’s submission to the Dunedin City Council’s annual plan hearing this year was an example of an ”ideological” approach.
He was not criticising staff, who he said had to present on a raft of issues.
Councillors faced with a lot of information from anti-fluoride campaigners needed a higher level of engagement from public health officials, he said.
He would prefer to see an ”empirical” approach, rather than officials taking an ideological view that fluoride was good for people.
Mr Thomson accepted assurances a presentation by the health board to the Invercargill City Council’s annual plan hearing was highly effective and persuasive.
Chief executive Carole Heatly said fluoride was discussed at a recent meeting she attended in Wellington, in particular the surprise decision of Hamilton City Council to remove fluoride from the water supply. In the Hamilton case, councillors acted emotionally when they made the decision, she said.
Contacted for comment, Fluoride Action Network NZ national co-ordinator Mary Byrne said public officials relied on their own authority to persuade local authorities rather than facts, because ”their facts don’t stack up”.