Ministers were accused of forcing people to take medication without their consent yesterday as the Government moved to push through plans to add fluoride to drinking water.
The Tories, who allowed their MPs a free vote on the measures to make it easier to fluoridate water last night, said that they were unhappy about the Government adding medicine to the water supply.
Ministers were accused of planning “mass medication” of drinking water in order to improve the teeth of young children who do not have balanced diets or fail to brush their teeth regularly.
David Lidington MP, shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said during the second reading of the Water Bill that the government plans were ill thought out. “Fluoridation is an important element of the Bill, and I feel serious unease at the idea of giving the state the power to insist on putting medicines into the water supply,” he said.
The Liberal Democrats, who with the Tories and Labour allowed their MPs a free vote, said water fluoridation should be a matter for local communities. “The case for what is effectively compulsory medication has not yet been made. But it is the right of local communities to decide on this issue,” said Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman. “The decision to add or remove fluoride from the water supply must be given to locally elected bodies, not to unelected officials.”
The Government was last night proposing an amendment to the Water Bill which would make it possible for local health authorities to force water companies to add the chemical to the water supply. The Green Party, which plans to table an emergency motion opposing fluoridation at its annual conference this week, said it was “patronising” for the Government to suggest that low-income families did not feed or look after their children properly, which meant they had bad teeth. They cited evidence showing that 48 per cent of people who have fluoridated water suffer dental fluorosis or unsightly mottling of the teeth. Studies have also suggested a link with Down’s syndrome, cancer, brittle bones and thyroid problems. But ministers think that adding fluoride will help to prevent cavities in children from low-income families. They are backed from MPs from all parties.
Andy Burnham, Labour MP for Leigh, criticised “nonsense scare stories” about fluoridation of water supplies. He said a poll by the British Fluoridation Society, which has been campaigning for the addition of the chemical, showed solid public support for the move.
Some 6 million people already have fluoride in their water.