Community water fluoridation looks like becoming a hot topic in October’s elections to District Health Boards. Anti-fluoride candidates should stop preventing open discussion and critique of their unscientific claims.
Legislation transferring fluoridation consultation and decision-making tasks from councils to district health boards (DHBs) will probably be introduced into New Zealand’s parliament next year. Anti-fluoride activists are preparing for this by transferring their attention from councils to District Health Boards. In particular, they are standing candidates for elections to DHBs in October’s elections.
Andrew Buckley is a retired osteopath who is standing for the Waikato DHB. He is making community water fluoridation a central issue of his campaign and presented his views in a blog article – “Fluoridation and democracy“ – and in a press release.
I welcome candidates who make their views clear on issues like this during their campaign where they can be discussed. But the problem with Andrew is that he does not seem to either want to discuss his claims or allow any discussion of them in the comments on his article. I contributed a comment which dealt with his claims point by point but he has not allowed it to appear – despite showing supportive comments from many of the usual anti-fluoride brigade.
This anti-democratic behaviour is ironic given that he was arguing for democracy and open debate on the issue. It is also deplorable that he prevent this open debate during an election campaign where he is making community water fluoridation a central issue.
As he won’t allow proper discussion on his web page I have put my comments into an open letter to Andrew. I, of course, offer him the right of reply here and welcome any contribution he can make to the discussion here.
I welcome your declarations that you are “not pro- or anti-fluoridation as a matter of principle” and decisions about community water fluoridation (CWF) “simply cannot and should not be made on the basis of hearsay and urban legend.” However, the claims you make in this article (“Fluoridation and democracy“) suggest you may have succumbed a few urban legends and been influenced by hearsay yourself.
Let’s consider some of your claims:
Hamilton City Council’s fluoridation fiasco
You claim the “Hamilton City Council councillors voted unanimously to stop” CWF – but that is just not true.
In June 2013 the council voted 7 to 1 (with several imposed abstentions) to stop CWF. There was public opposition to this decision as it ignored polling and a previous referendum result showing community support for fluoridation. A new referendum held along with the October 2013 local body elections again showed overwhelming public support for CWF and in March 2014 the council voted 9 to 1 in favour of reinstating CWF.
You claim the Hamilton City council “delivered a scathing commentary on the practice of fluoridation.” Could you identify that document and link to it? I am completely unaware of such a document despite having followed the issue closely at the time and having discussed the scientific basis of CWF with several councillors. My impression was that individual councillors were incapable of discussing the issue and, in fact, several councillors were very hostile towards science and scientists and very rude to correspondents as a result. I thought that highly disturbing for councillors in a city which houses several very reputable scientific institutions. But it seemed their stance, and emotive response, had more to do with pre-election political infighting than any appreciation of the science.
Are anti-fluoride claims validated?
You claim “validated claims of the multitude of opponents to water fluoridation [are] not refuted by sound supportive evidence in public debate.” Again not true.
Anti-fluoride activists like Paul Connett, Stan Litras, etc., often claim this but refuse to debate the issue themselves. I had one on-line debate with Paul Connett in 2013/2014 where (I believe) every claim he made was soundly refuted. You can find the record of that debate on my blog (Fluoride debate) or a pdf version of Fluoride Debate from my publications on ResearchGate . This is quite substantial and covers most issues that are raised by opponents of CWF.
The claims made by opponents of CWF have not been scientifically validated and are often based on misinformation or distortions of the science. It is telling that since my debate with Paul Connett he has simply refused every opportunity I have offered him for a right of reply to my articles where I have critiqued his claims (see for example “Misrepresenting fluoride science – an open letter to Paul Connett“). Similarly, Stan Litras has refused my offers of a right of reply in similar situations.
What about this “multitude?”
You are incorrect in using the word “multitude” as recent referenda have shown in New Zealand. This was confirmed in more detail by the NZ oral health survey as reported in this paper:
Whyman, R. A., Mahoney, E. K., & Børsting, T. (2015). Community water fluoridation: attitudes and opinions from the New Zealand Oral Health Survey. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
I discussed date from this paper in my article Anti-fluoride propagandists get creative with statistics. The graph below summarises the data:
While support for CWF may not appear as massive as recent referenda results show (which don’t record the undecided), the fact that only about 10% of people are strongly opposed (and another 5% somewhat opposed) to CWF in the survey. This does suggest your use of the word “multitude” is an exaggeration.
The opponents of CWF may be very organised and vocal (a fact which has led councils to see the fluoridation issue as a poisoned chalice) but they basically represent the minority ideological and commercial interests of the alternative health industry – which in many cases funds their work and give avenues for their propaganda.
WHO data misrepresented
You claim “according to the World Health Organisation, [there is] an equal reduction of dental caries in countries throughout Europe, irrespective of whether there is water fluoridation or not” is just not true. You have blindly accepted a popular anti-fluoride urban legend.
In fact, the WHO data show different reductions of dental caries for different countries. The reductions are just not equal. Here is the graph that anti-fluoride activists often use to promote this urban legend:
There is actually very little data for each country in this graphic (hence the predominance of straight lines). The bigger problem is that no sensible comparison can be made between countries without taking into account the multitude of factors which influence tooth decay and which vary from country to country and year to year. Surely that is obvious?The more sensible and scientifically accepted approach is to compare fluoridated and unfluoridated areas within countries. I discussed this in my article
The more sensible and scientifically accepted approach is to compare fluoridated and unfluoridated areas within countries. I discussed this in my article “Misrepresenting fluoride science – an open letter to Paul Connett” and illustrated it with the WHO data for Ireland where fluoridated and unfluoridated areas are compared:
People like Paul Connett and his followers promote this urban legend again and again – despite having been shown why it is wrong (for example in my debate with Connett). They are knowingly promoting a distortion of the facts.
CWF a “medicine?”
You ask “Why was fluoride removed from the medicines list . . ?” but CWF was never on a “medicines list” as you would be aware if you had read the High Court ruling in the case brought by the “natural”/alternative health industry lobby group New Health NZ against the South Taranaki District Council.
I refer to this in my article Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court but you could also read Justice Hansen’s judgment. This was confirmed in Justice Collin’s ruling on the subsequent appeal (see Another legal defeat for NZ anti-fluoridation activists).
The concentrations of fluoride used in CWF are below that required for listing. As Justice Collins determined:
“when fluoride is added to domestic water supplies within the maximum allowable concentration of 1.5 mg/l the concentration of fluoride in domestic water supplies will be well below the concentration threshold required for fluoride to be a medicine in Schedule 1 of the Regulations.”
“ . . fluoride would be a medicine under the Act if it was added to domestic water supplies in concentrations of 10 mg/l or more.”
The only change to regulations was to introduce a clause clarifying that when chemicals like sodium fluoride, fluorosilicic acid or sodium fluorosilicate are used for CWF they are not considered a medicine. A clarification, not a change.
Why transfer decision and consultation on CWF to DHBs?
You ask why the Minister of health has “decided to take the decision away from local authorities and give it to DHBs to decide?”
As you are a candidate for election to a DHB you have a responsibility to consult the official documents outlining reasons for the proposed changes. I suggest you read Proposed legislative changes: decision-making on the fluoridation of drinking-water supplies, Transferring decision-making on the fluoridation of drinking-water from local authorities to district health boards the cabinet paper Decision-making on the fluoridation of drinking-water supplies).
I also suggest you refer to discussions at the Local Government NZ conferences and individual council statements requesting that central government take responsibility for CWF decisions and consultations away from councils. As they have often argued, they do not have the expertise to consider the science involved and feel that they are unfairly exposed to a highly organised minority of ideologically and commercially motivated activists.
Questions for you, Andrew
Do you think a body like the elected DHB or local body councils are the appropriate place to make decisions about the science of health issues like CWF? After all, they do not have the expertise and surely such scientific decisions are not made by the board on other health issues relevant to all the procedures carried out in a hospital. Don’t you think that DHBs and Councils should instead rely on the best up-to-date reviews of the science by a body like the Royal Society of NZ?For example:
Eason, C., & Elwood, JM. Seymour, Thomson, WM. Wilson, N. Prendergast, K. (2014). Health effects of water fluoridation : A review of the scientific evidence.
Surely the task for board member on this issue is to receive such up-to-date reviews, together with data from staff on the oral health issues in the area and the feasibility and likely efficacy of CWF. On top of that, they should take into account the balanced views of the community – using polls or referenda. This should then allow them to make an informed decision about any proposal for or against CWF in their region.
Getting bogged down with the activist claims and counter claims and their propaganda based on misinformation and distortions of the science (as happened initially with the Hamilton City Council) is certainly not a responsible approach.
Andrew, you criticised the democratic processes of the DHB for which you are standing. I cannot judge if your complaints are sincere as I have not see the full picture. But I certainly support your conclusion about this issue:
“I believe we must follow democratic process and proper debate.”
So, why have you denied the democratic process with your blog article “Fluoridation and democracy?“ You did not allow my comment, which covered the areas above, while at the same time allowing comments from known anti-fluoride activists slavishly praising you for your article?
Does this illustrate the sort of rejection of open and democratic discussion you will follow if you are elected?
I believe voters have a right to know how you have purposely acted to prevent open discussion while hypocritically calling for it.
Surely that is a reason not to vote for you in the October elections?
Finally, Andrew, I offer you a right of reply to my open letter. I am willing to post a reply for you here. After all, I do support open discussion of the CWF issue and, particularly, I am keen that these “urban legends” and “hearsay” be properly debunked and their promoters exposed.
I look forward to a fruitful good-faith discussion.