Households throughout England and Wales could receive a dose of fluoride when they turn on the tap after the Government pushed through a measure to improve the teeth of children who do not have healthy diets.
Ministers steered through a change in the law to make it easier to medicate drinking water and force water companies to add fluoride to local supplies. But the move by health ministers was opposed by MPs from all parties in a free vote during the third reading of the Water Bill. They warned of adverse side-effects and argued it was wrong to “mass medicate” the population without individual consent.
Anti-fluoridation campaigners reacted angrily to the measure yesterday and promised to launch a legal challenge in the European courts. “It’s a bad day for Parliament. Mass medication is forbidden under human rights legislation,” said Jane Jones of the National Pure Water Association.
In Parliament, the rebel MPs, led by Welsh Nationalist MP Simon Thomas, had insufficient numbers to defeat the move by the Department of Health. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development and Michael Howard, the Tory leader, were among those voting against the policy.
The change to the law will enable health authorities in England and Wales to force water companies to add fluoride to water supplies after consultation with local people. At the moment water companies can refuse to add the chemical if a local authority requests it.
“We believe that fluoridating water is an extremely effective way of preventing tooth decay,” said a spokesman for the DoH.