Here we go again.
The Whakatane District Council has ignored the results of their own referendum and decided to stop community water fluoridation (CWF). (see Council votes to stop fluoridation, and Whakatane mayor stands by fluoride decision). This mirrors almost exactly the behaviour of the Hamilton City Council three years ago.
But are the Whakatane councillors (or, at least, the 6 who voted to stop CWF) so short of memory that they did not learn from the Hamilton experience? There the decision resulted in protests and petitions, eventually forcing the council to hold yet another referendum at the end of 2013. That showed, once again, clear support (about 70%) for CWF and the council later reversed their decision.
A thoroughly bad experience for that council and a humiliating one for the city. We had the picture of council politicians pretending to know better than the health and scientific experts and attempting to impose their own ideologically motivated position on the voters. It got so silly the council even issued their own leaflet providing oral health advice – advice which was out of step with that issued by health authorities!
Councils ignore voters wishes at their own peril. The Whakatane District Council anti-fluoridationist Mayor, Tony Bonne, justified his move by referring to the low voter turnout in the referendum. Are we to take it that if he loses the next election he will ignore that result and refuse to step down because of the low voter turnout?
The 2013 referendum in the Whakatane District showed that 60.5 per cent of those who voted were in favour of fluoridation, with 39.5 per cent against. However, in the only areas currently fluoridated – Whakatane City and Ohope – support for CWF was even greater – 65.8 per cent and 70.5 per cent respectively. The council is surely silly to ignore that vote without a good reason.
“We listened to the experts.”
Mayor Bonne declared “we listened to the experts” before making the decision. But who the hell were these experts?:
Supporting CWF – Dr Neil de Wet of Toi Te Ora Public Health and local dental practitioner John Twaddle. OK, these people seem to have some qualifications to be described as “expert.”
Opposing CWF – Mary Byrne and Jon Burness of Fluoride-Free New Zealand. What expertise do these people have? – why should their word be accepted?
Well, they are both activists, belonging to the local activist group which is a chapter of the US Fluoride Action Network. That body is financed by the “natural”/alternative health industry – particularly by the Mercola on-line business. (Local anti-fluoride actions, such as those in the High Court, have similarly been financed by the NZ health Trust – the lobby group for the local “natural”/alternative health industry. See Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action? and Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court).
Mary has no expertise I know of except her activism. Jon is an alternative health practitioner and business person. He specialises in kinesiology and is a member of the Society of Natural Therapists and Researchers, NZ. As part of his business he runs the Whakatane Natural Health Centre.
OK, everyone has to make a living and I do not want to question the sincerity of either Mary or Jon.
But experts!! Tony Bonne is disingenuous to use that word. He should be representing his voters, not the alternative woo merchants, whatever his own personal ideological beliefs. It is a sad day when we elect councillors (or at least the six who voted for Bonne’s resolution) who cannot differentiate between acceptable scientific and health experts on the one hand and ideologically driven activists and alternative “practitioners” using very questionable techniques on a gullible public on the other.
Councils not appropriate for fluoridation decisions
Mayor Bonne did, however, make sense with his statement that it should not be left to local bodies to make public health decisions and he would welcome stronger direction from central government. In that he actually agrees with Daniel Ryan, President of the Making sense of Fluoride group who said:
“There is just no excuse any more for John Key’s government to keep making councils juggle the expensive and diversionary hot potato. They want councils to focus on core business and be fiscally responsible – and they say they care about children’s health. With one simple measure on fluoridation they could have a really meaningful impact on all of that.”
The ball is in the government’s court on this issue – and has been for several years since local bodies formally asked central government and the Ministry of Health to take responsibility for decisions on CWF. There is really no excuse to leave this with councils whose decisions are so easily clouded by ideology and personal ambitions that they, or at least some of the council members, will happily ignore the advice of the real science and health experts and the wishes of their voters.