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Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull has praised a Government proposal to make fluoridation the responsibility of district health boards instead of councils.
The change would to lead to more water supplies being fluoridated, as the benefits and safety of doing so were widely recognised by health professionals, he said.
Councils at present have the power to keep, add or remove fluoride from the water supply and the fluoride debate has been raging in New Zealand for years.
In June 2013, Hamilton removed fluoride from its water following public consultation, only to restore it in May 2014 after a resident-initiated referendum.
Mr Cull welcomed the announcement, saying he and other local government representatives in Dunedin and across the country had long called for the issue to be dealt with by DHBs.
‘‘Since fluoridating water is a health measure, it's appropriate that people with access to medical expertise are the ones making the call.''
The Dunedin City Council had previously ‘‘struggled'' when evaluating evidence from people on both sides of the fluoride debate.
‘‘I would be surprised if very many elected members at all had any expertise in this area.''
In announcing the decision yesterday, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said there were high rates of tooth decay in New Zealand, and giving DHBs the power to decide on fluoridation could benefit more than 1.4million people in areas where water was not fluoridated.
On average, young people aged under 18 who live in areas with water fluoridation will have a 40% lower lifetime incidence of tooth decay.
In 2013, more than 40% of all 5-year-olds and more than 60% of Maori and Pacific 5-year-olds had already experienced tooth decay.
‘‘Water fluoridation has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and other international health authorities as the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay,'' Dr Coleman said.
‘‘There's still choice around fluoridation, but the DHBs will be making the decision. But, yes, I want to see more fluoride in New Zealand water supplies.''
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said taking the power to decide from local authorities was recognition that water fluoridation was a health-related issue.
‘‘It makes sense for DHBs to make fluoridation decisions for their communities based on local health priorities and by assessing health-related evidence.''
Legislation is expected to be introduced to Parliament later this year.
Mary Byrne, national co-ordinator of the Fluoride Action Network New Zealand, which has been campaigning to remove fluoride from water supplies, said the change would be opposed by many people in areas such as Christchurch and Nelson that currently did not have fluoride added.
‘‘It is mandatory fluoridation by the back door, because the DHBs have to follow Ministry of Health policy.
‘‘DHBs all around the country will say they have to have fluoridation.
‘‘It is a really, really backwards step ... People will be up in arms.''
In January, the Whakatane District Council voted to stop adding fluoride to any of the district's public water supplies.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason spoke out against that decision, and it was later reversed at council level.
Fluoride occurs naturally in New Zealand water supplies, but levels are generally low compared with those in other countries.
- Otago Daily Times/The New Zealand Herald