Prime Minster John Key has described anti-fluoride arguments as “overstated”.
Speaking to the media at the National Fieldays today, Key said he supported fluoridation of water supplies, but it was a matter for local councils to decide.
“In my view, the evidence strongly supports that fluoride actually stops tooth decay, overall the health benefits of it are significant, and actually those that worry about the negative effects overstate those matters,” he said.
Although he would not be drawn on the Hamilton City Council’s decision to remove fluoride from the city’s water supply, he thought “there were no significant negative health side-effects”.
City councillor and Waikato District Health Board member Ewan Wilson has launched a bid to trigger a citizens-initiated referendum on the matter under a policy about to be wiped.
After legal advice yesterday, council staff confirmed that five elected members’ signatures were needed to force a debate that could revoke a June 2012 decision not to hold a fluoride referendum in October.
Wilson said that if he failed to persuade four other councillors to support a referendum, a strong demonstration of the public’s opinion could work.
The council’s policy allows a petition signed by 1500 enrolled city voters to force the council to consider holding a referendum.
Councillors last month voted to remove the policy, but because that decision was made two days before the full council meeting, it remains unratified and in force.
Asked if he would support Wilson’s call for a binding referendum, Key said: “That’s a matter for the local community to decide, but one thing that is really important is that people are well informed.
“Because the argument that people can get fluoride through another form – a supplement outside of the water supply – is true, but the question you have to ask yourself is, will those who are most at risk get fluoride in another form? And I think the evidence shows they’re not.”
A 2006 referendum supposedly binding on the council saw 70 per cent of the 38 per cent of eligible voters who took part endorse continued fluoridation.
A Waikato Times poll last week put the number in favour at 59 per cent, with 24 per cent against. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.71 per cent.
Wilson said copies of the referendum petition were available for registered Hamilton voters to sign on the ninth floor of the main city council building.
The policy states that if, having been presented with a qualifying petition, the council refuses to hold a referendum, a petition with the signatures of 10 per cent of eligible city voters can force it to hold one.
Unless the will of the majority is legally impossible for the council to implement, it must “give favourable consideration to the view of the majority of valid votes cast” in the referendum.
– Additional reporting by Harry Pearl