11 Feb 2016

Whakatane flip-flops on fluoride

6:40 pm on 11 February 2016

The Whakatane council has voted to put fluoride back into Whakatane's water supply - nine days after it was removed.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The u-turn, at a specially convened meeting of the Whakatane District Council today, hinged on one man's vote.

That has infuriated anti-fluoridation campaigners and added fuel to the campaign to take similar decisions out of the hands of local councils.

The man whose vote sealed Whakatane's fluoridation back-flip, councillor Gerrad Van Beek, said he had simply had more time to consider the evidence.

When he voted last month to ditch fluoride he was on the fence, so erred on the side of caution; he did not believe fluoride was harmful but was also not convinced of its health benefits in drinking water.

Today, with one councillor away sick, Mr Van Beek's change of mind was enough to get fluoride back into tap water in Whakatane and Ohope, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

Whakatane anti-fluoride campaigner, John Burness, said he did not expect the decision.

"I was devastated because the councillor who had been a proponent of removing fluoride turned around and removed his vote. The council has flip-flopped again."

Mr Burness said he believed Mr Van Beek was bullied by health authorities into changing his mind.

Dentist overjoyed

But a pro-fluoride dentist in the town, John Twaddle, said that accusation could be levelled at the anti-fluoride groups who bombarded confused councillors with information, much of it emotive.

He said he was overjoyed by the decision but it was too close a call.

"If anything else had happened I would have been absolutely mortified because I think it would have meant whatever democratic processes were in place were being thwarted by a small, vociferous, anti-fluoride group, and I don't think that's how the democratic process should work."

Local Government New Zealand is lobbying the government to have decisions like this taken out of the hands of local councils.

Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said the the decision was hard for councilllors.

"We won't be relooking at this decision for a long, long time now but I would say that (where) we will be concentrating is supporting Local Government New Zealand to make sure that this scenario doesn't go all round the country and cost thousands of dollars of ratepayers' money to get decisions."

He said he had never seen such a passionate debate over an issue in his 18 years in local government.

"I actually believe that fluoridation is only a minor issue. It is something that polarises a certain amount of the community and councils have got far more important things to carry on with."

Fluoride-Free Whakatane said it would revisit the issue after a new council was elected this year.

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