Like most people I struggle to find the energy when representative and government bodies call for submissions. But I did make the effort recently when Medsafe called for submissions on their proposed clarification of how fluoridating agents are defined in the medicine regulations. I am pleased to see the simple suggestion I made was accepted. But my purpose here is to illustrate how this consultation proceeded and how opponents of community water fluoridation (CWF) tried to swamp it with their submissions.
Last November the Ministry of Health (MoH), through Medsafe, called for submission on a change to the Medicine Regulations 1984. This change had been recommended by the High Court and the Crown Law Office who specifically suggested that fluoride compounds used for CWF be exempt from definition as a “medicine.” This arose from the defeat of attempts by an anti-fluoride group, New Health NZ, to use the argument that fluoridation was medication in the High Court actions against CWF. Despite these defeats the High Court and Crown Law Office considered the regulations should be clarified to remove the argument from repeated litigation.
Simply, the proposal was to add a new regulation:
“Fluoride-containing substances, including the substances hydrofluorosilicic acid (HFA) and sodium silico fluoride (SSF) are not medicines for the purposes of the Act when they are manufactured and supplied or distributed for the purpose of fluoridating community water supplies.”
Medsafe asked for responses to the following questions:
- Question 1: Do you support the proposed amendment? If not why not?
- Question 2: Are there other fluoride-containing compounds used to treat community water supplies that should be specifically named in the regulation? If so, what are they?
Submissions – quantity or quality
The report from MoH on the process and their recommendations to cabinet give an idea of the submissions made and the final decision.
As we might expect from past experience the submissions were dominated, in numbers if not quality and relevance, by those from the anti-fluoride groups. They had organised a national and international campaign to swamp Medsafe. Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network, Fluoride Free NZ and New Health NZ even provided texts and templates to copy and paste into submissions.
Here is the description of the consultation outcome in the MoH report:
So, the activist organisations can certainly mobilise their forces for submissions. But concentration on numbers and not content – and cynical provision of content to followers anyway – didn’t win them any credence. Did they really think blatant duplication of submissions would not stick out like a sore thumb?
It is also heartening to see that the MoH was not swayed by blanket repetition of arguments which do not have credible scientific support. (I guess we can also see why the anti-fluoride activists groups are putting so much effort into their campaign to attack and discredit the NZ Fluoridation Review which summarises the scientific evidence.)
Sometimes suggestions are accepted
I had made the simple suggestion tha sodium fluoride be added to the short list of examples of fluoride chemicals used for CWF. So this recommendation to cabinet pleased me
Nice to know that the consultation was not a sham and that reasonable and credible suggestions were listened to and even accepted. It is worth making submissions even when one is aware they me in a minority. If something is worth saying it should be said despite attempts by others to confuse issues.
Also nice to know that some consultations are not simply swayed by quantity and not quality – as was the case for the Hamilton City Council fluoride consultation in 2013 (see When politicians and bureaucrats decide the science).
The Hamilton City Council consultation also showed an extreme naivety in the Council’s willingness to ignore the established science. I wonder what approach they would have taken if the NZ Fluoridation Review had been available at the time?