Documents > Politics
Time for a reality check on water fluoridation.
24th August 2012
A rigorous reality check on water fluoridation is long overdue. Both sides in the fluoridation dispute need to stand back and think hard about what they are doing, because things are about to change, very dramatically. The pro-fluoridation paradigm is collapsing, and both sides need to consider developing new strategies to cope with the inevitable recriminations over this contentious subject.
Ideally, that would involve collaboration, but the historical baggage of half a century of mud-slinging will be hard to put aside. Collaborating with ‘the enemy’ is not a popular concept, so there will be many whose reputations and careers will be destroyed in the coming Armageddon.
A futile contest.
To the casual observer, the fluoridation battle appears to be running pretty much as usual. In public, each side’s champions engage in hyped-up confrontations, like tag wrestlers battling it out before excited fans in some seedy back-street ring. The worthy warriors from both the pro- and the anti- camps parade their often arcane credentials and technical expertise, oblivious to the utter bewilderment of the rest of their audiences.
Yet, when the final bell sounds, what have these contests really achieved? A small victory here, a narrow defeat there - but on the scale of the international arena, or even in the more restricted national corridors of power, nothing has changed. The rules of engagement have long been fixed by the fluoride advocates, and their bandwagon rolls merrily on, regardless.
This is not to say that such contests o not have their uses. When new fluoridation projects are proposed, the public is generally in favour, not least because the proponents have already assured them of the supposed benefits to their children. But once the people hear arguments against fluoridation, their support invariably collapses. In the end, it often comes down to the befuddled opinion of a few members of the Local Council to decide whether or not the fluoridation lottery runs or fails.
So these public confrontations do have a predictable effect on the general members of society, but their impacts rapidly become diluted and vanish before they reach the top of the political hierarchy in government. As we saw here in Hampshire, and as our Australian friends in New South Wales are finding out now, local objections are simply over-ruled when they are not compliant with public policy.
The inexorable tide of fluoridation
Perhaps you think that this is unfair? If so, just take a clear look at what’s been happening over the past few years. Whilst opponents of fluoridation loudly trumpet the latest local triumph, in America - the very heartland of fluoridation - the move to fluoridate the nation continues to run wild. It’s been claimed that over 3 million Americans have thrown off the yolk of water fluoride in recent years. But that’s only half the story.
According to the Centers for Disease control (CDC), the overall number of people receiving fluoridated water in the USA between 2008 and 2010 increased by a staggering 9 million.  On that basis, for every single soul liberated from fluoridated water, four more were dragged under its influence - that’s hardly a massive success for the anti-fluoride campaign.
And it’s not just in America that this is happening. The last Australian State to resist universal fluoridation, Queensland, has now fallen to the fluoride advocates, and in most parts of Australia almost 90% of the population is now locked into mass medication . In widely fluoridated Malaysia, the practice is being reintroduced in Sabah, the second largest State, after a gap of 22 years . The writing is on the wall in Fiji, too, where it’s now a criminal offence to sell non-Fluoridated toothpaste.
Here in Europe, the Republic of Ireland remains saturated with fluoride, as far as is practically feasible, with around 73% of public water supplies deliberately dosed with this toxin. A similar picture can be seen everywhere, if only the opponents of fluoridation would admit the truth to their loyal fans, instead of just proclaiming the latest rejection by a temporarily enlightened Council.
The UK - a lonely garrison of resistance.
Well - in fact it’s not quite ‘everywhere’, after all. In the relentless global march of fluoridation, one country stands out as the exception. Here in the UK, the mass medication juggernaut has ground to an ignominious halt, despite the British government’s determination to quadruple the number of subjects exposed to public water supplies containing dilute fluorosilicic acid. Not a single new project has been started here since the government tried to move the goalposts in its favour, by changing the law to make it easier to force communities to accept fluoridation, back in 1985.
In fact, the UK appears to be unique in that the prevalence of water fluoridation has actually fallen slightly in recent years. Water treatment works in West Cumbria - the English Lake District - have quietly suspended operations over the past four years, supposedly to allow the water supplier, United Utilities, to carry out ‘improvements’, which we are told are due to be completed by 2013.
Coincidentally, of course, that’s just when our Strategic Health Authorities, which have the power to order companies to fluoridate their product, are due to be abolished. But since when did it take five years to update a couple of minor water treatment works that are already set up to dose the public supply? (In case you ask, yes, UKCAF did have a crucial hand in that delay too, although we won’t tell you - yet - how we did it!)
Changing the rules of engagement.
So what is different about opposition to fluoridation here in the UK? If the science debates don’t work, how come we alone have blocked any expansion for the past 27 years? The answer is simple; whilst other anti-fluoridation campaigners here follow the same parochial pathways as their counterparts elsewhere, we at UKCAF play by a different set of rules, ones that we have established ourselves, and that avoid the morass of public debate and technical argument.
We gave up doing public rallies and protest meetings several years ago. Nowadays we concentrate solely on informing Local Councils on what the law permits the government to do, and on their own legal liabilities if they fail to comply with those laws, rather than with fickle political objectives. We play politics on a ‘no holds barred’ basis - just like the opposition, in fact. There’s no point in arguing like respectable gentlefolk and academics obstructed by the uncertain probabilities of science and medicine and the inconvenient confounding factors when the proponents of fluoridation play by a much more devious set of rules.
When the hard core proponents of fluoridation are prepared to ignore uncertainty about scientific evidence - indeed, they gleefully exploit it - and use every dirty trick in the book to get their own way, that’s the signal for the gloves to come off. If you really want to understand how the fluoride war is conducted by both sides, and why scientific debate is so ineffective, then read Brian Martin’s excellent Scientific knowledge in controversy: the sociodynamics of the fluoridation debate.
Although it was written over twenty years ago, Martin’s book provides a timeless explanation of why political support for the practice remains so strong, despite all the advances in scientific understanding since it was originally published back in 1991. And it also hints at why our strategy at UKCAF has been so successful.
By playing a low-key role, behind the scenes and influencing the key people in the political hierarchy, we have eliminated some of the most important propaganda sources of the fluoridation proponents. To put it bluntly, when they got in our way we used their own methods to take them out of the game, as we did with the British Fluoridation Society  and the National Fluoride Information Centre.
Money talks - the water sector’s dilemma.
UKCAF works with the political movers and shakers who have the real authority to over-ride the tedious middle managers and their sycophantic ‘dental health experts’. Remember that politicians don’t generate revenue, they confiscate it from others. Ultimately, money talks loudest, and the commercial sector has a big financial stake in ensuring that its customers keep buying its goods and services.
So whilst the UK’s Department of Health remains impervious to argument over the legitimacy of its fluoridation ambitions, the private sector water companies are becoming far more aware of the issue of their potential liability for the effect of their product on their customers. We have already discussed these thorny issues with several Chief Executives, Senior Managers and company lawyers, to their substantial benefit and evident interest. When their lawyers literally take to their heels and run, as happened to us on one memorable occasion, you know that you’ve scored some important points!
Much of the delay in implementing recently proposed new schemes here in the UK is due to the water companies finding excuses to delay starting work until after the Health Authorities’ power to order them to fluoridate is transferred to Local Authorities next year. They, at least, are fully aware of how local politics and public opinion can reverse such plans overnight, and are attempting to protect their shareholders from the fall-out if they were to put such unpopular projects into operation.
But next year, when our Councils eventually become front runners in decisions over fluoridation, they will then discover that they risk getting voted out of office by a largely hostile public. UKCAF has already made sure that Councils are aware of the legal objections against fluoridation. So next years, they will have to decide if they are willing to risk corporate and personal liability for any actions for damages that may result from their participation in imposing any new schemes on their electorate. We repeatedly remind our Councils of the basic legal principle that there can be no indemnity for an illegal act, and that government promises of indemnity are worthless.
Finding a way into the corridors of power.
Because of the way that the politics of fluoridation operate here in the UK, our strategy would be less effective in other countries where Councils have a different role, such as in the USA or Australia. In those, pressure needs to be applied at the Federal level, where power originates. So, in a ‘belt-and-braces’ approach, testing the water for campaigners in other States, we have implemented our ‘Plan B’, and taken our fight to the Federal level, to the European Community itself.
The real heart of power here is in the European Parliament, because that’s where the legal framework under which Member States operate is based. So, leaving other British anti-fluoridation groups to distract the opposition and stir up the local populations with their petitions and banner-waving, we’ve collaborated with Robert Pocock in Ireland to take the battle to the heart of Europe.
Robert’s formal petition to the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee is now ‘active’ and gaining increasing support from Members of the European Parliament, as it gradually penetrates their modest intellects just how severely this practice violates the laws of the European Community. The European Parliament’s Petition Committee has recently demanded access to the infringement files of the European Commission, a clear indication that the violations set out in Pocock’s Petition are being taken seriously.
We are seeking no less than an order from the Commission to the British and Irish governments to implement the Medicines Directive with respect to fluoridated water, and cease putting fluoride in the public water supplies. And from the number of repeat visits to our web site from the European Court of Justice, and from the European Parliament, then the Council, and finally the Commission, it is clear that this Petition is making its way to the top of the bureaucratic heap. If all goes well, then fluoridation could be officially banned in Europe within weeks - perhaps!
The irrelevance of public referenda on water fluoridation
For years I have said that the only permanent resolution of the fluoridation contest will come through the enforcement of medicinal law. If an action is prohibited, then there is no point in arguing whether or not it harms anyone. If the law says ‘STOP!’, then all arguments over whether it works or not are utterly irrelevant.
So too are surveys of public opinion and referenda, designed (usually by the fluoride advocates yet again) to discover what proportion of people agree with their meaningless question, “Do you support the government’s plan to commit medical assault on your child?” No amount of public support will make an illegal act legitimate, even when the public has been brain-washed into giving the State the answer that it wants.
Public opinion’s impact on commercial sensitivities
But the most important sign that the anti-fluoridation movement is at last gaining ground comes from a quite different direction, and the balance of power has shifted dramatically, over just a few months. Whilst the public health sector sticks rigidly to hackneyed cliché that ‘fluoride is absolutely safe and effective’, the pharmaceutical industry is far more sensitive to the commercial implications of changing public opinion. It is well aware of how the capricious public perceptions of their products can transform world-leading brands into worthless scrap overnight.
Most of you will not have noticed, but the signs are obvious once you know what to look for. So when next you sit watching your TV, pay special attention to the toothpaste advertisements. For years the manufacturers of leading fluoridated brands have boasted of the high levels of the wonder ingredient, fluoride, in their products. But now they avoid all mention of it; suddenly it’s all about extra bright smiles and ‘sensitive teeth’ (whatever they might be!). Fluoride has become a dirty word, and is being discretely erased from public attention.
In the past few months, quietly and without overt promotion, those same manufacturers have unobtrusively begun introducing new brands of non-fluoridated toothpaste into the marketplace. They’re not promoting them actively yet, but that will change. And in the shops, sales assistants have become curiously reluctant to mention fluoride when customers ask for advice about toothpastes.
The spectre of ‘mass medication’.
The key to this wind of change rests firmly in a curiously neglected objection to fluoridation. The average person has a nagging and instinctive feeling that it’s an example of State-imposed mass medication, a step too far. The proponents of fluoridation are of course keenly aware that this in-built resistance to State interference with personal autonomy has the potential to unite the public against their crusade for universal fluoridation.
That’s why they have managed to subvert regulators of medicines and drugs around the world with the extraordinary lie that fluoridated water is not a medicinal product. If it’s not a drug, then, they argue, fluoridation can’t be mass medication and there’s no need to regulate the product as a drug!
And if it’s not necessary to regulate it then, it is argued, it’s perfectly reasonable to put it into the public water supplies, where even the poorest and most deprived infant can ‘enjoy’ its indisputable benefits. Thousands of terrified infants, it is earnestly claimed, will no longer have to endure the trauma of surgical removal of their damaged body-parts (they mean tooth extractions!) And yes, they really do rely on such turgid emotive clap-trap - we’ve repeatedly heard such claims made to our Member Councils in the past.
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” 
Let’s be quite clear about one thing here; the vast majority of people in our communities have no idea what almost all of the scientific argument for and against fluoridation really mean. The same goes for those amiable but generally scientifically illiterate souls in the Council Chambers and, indeed, even for most practising dentists.
The vast majority of the public, their governing politicians, and the dental profession simply do not have the educational background and technical training to be able to express an informed opinion on dental epidemiology, toxicology or scientific methodology. They rely almost exclusively on the story told to them by whichever charismatic promoter of one viewpoint or the other gets to them first. Once convinced, they are reluctant to change their minds, as the recruiters of any religious crusade will tell you.
Their anti-fluoridation opponents lag far behind in their attempts to counter the disinformation that has already swayed public perception of this practice. This is, of course, why any form of initial public consultation generally suggests majority support for the practice - the dice have been loaded firmly in favour of the ‘official’ policy by political facilitators, long before the game began. And because the promoters of fluoridation have had access to almost unlimited State - and of course, commercial - funding for decades, the pro-fluoridation camp has been able to promote their ‘safe and effective’ propaganda without any real opposition.
Only when the full range of arguments has been publicised in public debate are people equipped to develop a more balanced understanding of the implications of the proposed development for themselves and their family; this is, of course, why there is so much official resistance to holding referenda on fluoridation. Allowing the people to hear authoritative alternative views on the merits or otherwise of fluoridation is highly detrimental to their chances of public endorsement for the policy.
Who’s actually running this mad-house?
Public resistance to mass medication runs deep around the world. It is seen as a direct violation of the right to choose one’s own way of life. Modern communities have become much more vociferous in protecting their human rights of late. So when the State starts to interfere with the autonomy of parents to decide what may be done to their children, things can get nasty.
In a desperate effort to keep public resistance under control, the advocates of fluoridation have adopted the strategy of reassuring the public that fluoridated water is not actually a medicine or a drug. By that lie, they hope to convince the public that putting the stuff into the public water supply is not mass medication after all. When confronted with a big problem, only the big lie seems to be appropriate!
This process of public disinformation has been enormously successful. Brian Martin’s analyses of the confrontation between science and politics demonstrate why opponents of fluoridation, no matter how reputable they may be, are now automatically dismissed by politicians as irrational cranks and mad scientists.
No-one in their right mind, it is murmured amongst the in-crowd, could possibly dispute the value of this solid-as-rock public health policy! In the twisted Alice-in-Wonderland world of fluoridation, the inmates have decided that the keepers are mad, and have taken over the running of the asylum for themselves.
You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
And suddenly, it’s all going horribly wrong for them. A small band of dedicated researchers has been chipping away at this institutional house of cards, but not by relying on scientific argument. Instead they have been investigating the compliance of this public health intervention with the principles governing medical ethics and jurisprudence. Why go down this alternative road? Science is all about the probability that any particular results might be wrong, and generates endless controversy; law is about precise judgments on written statements of policy, and is more easily resolved through long established process and precedent.
These researchers have established beyond doubt (or argument) that medicinal law dictates that this product is indeed a drug. They have shown that, since it is unlicensed for the purpose of administering it to humans, its supply is illegal, and accuse those health professional who continue to endorse its misuse in this fashion of violating the most fundamental ethical principle of medicine. And support for these accusations is growing, fast.
Many health pro-fluoridation health professionals genuinely believe that this practice is indeed safe and effective, and socially beneficial. But they find it impossible to accept that the evidence on which their belief is founded may be unreliable or outdated. This is professional incompetence or low-level negligence, rather than outright malpractice, and could be remedied by some honest tutoring in basic chemistry, statistics and scientific methodology.
But others are fully aware that much of the ‘evidence’ propping up their shaky house of cards is fabricated. In spite of this, they choose to avoid the displeasure of their in-crowd colleagues and professional trade unions, refusing to rock the boat or recant. These are the real villains, because it is they who choose the path of fraud and deception over the principles of medicinal ethics and science.
And these are the ones who know perfectly well that, if it can be proven that fluoridation is unlawful and unethical, the entire legitimacy of the practice that they impose on the public will be destroyed. And they also know that if these violations of medical and ethical principles were to be made public, they would be faced with furious citizens determined to bring them to account before the courts for the damage that they have caused to many millions of children over the years.
Closing the loophole - bringing fluoridated water under the control of medical law.
Over the past couple of decades, indisputable proof that this product is subject to medical law has finally emerged. And in its wake, public rejection of ‘mass medication’ is rising fast, with the anger of the man in the street spilling over into the media.
The rot set in in Scotland, back in 1983, when High Court judge Lord Jauncey ruled that fluoride, in whatever form it may be purchased by the public, is a medical product under English law.  This was consistent with an earlier judgment by Judge Gillard in Australia in 1963, ruling that the authority for fluoridation must be found solely in public health law.
Then, in 1996, Douglas Balog published a critical analysis of the US government’s attempts to vindicate its use of State police powers to inflict medical violence against the public, by imposing water fluoridation on communities. I enlarged on this in my influential paper with the American campaigner Bob Carton in 2003 , in which we compared the different legislative frameworks manipulated by the British and American governments in their attempts to justify their policies on fluoridating public water supplies.
Over the past decade I have continued publishing analyses of how European law applies directly to the use of fluoride as a medicinal product in water and foods, and shown how this in turn prohibits the exportation to the European Community of foods prepared in fluoridated States elsewhere. This last obscure analysis has become the most popular download from this web site, with over 20,000 readers so far, and numerous copies reproduced on other sites.
Recently I have provided Expert Testimony that exposes the improper process of assessment relied on by the Health Department in New South Wales, in its attempts to force new fluoridation schemes past Australian Councils. My evidence that all new schemes require a formal Health Impact Assessment under the terms of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act is now an issue in cases to be heard before the Supreme Court in Sydney, later this year.
This is precisely where the final battles between the two camps need to be fought, using challenges that rely on the compliance with, and application of, legal process, rather than yet more arguments over the disputable issues of medicine and science.
The profession’s heavyweights move in.
And in the last couple of months, the demolition of the legal and ethical basis on which fluoridation rests has been completed by two new analyses in leading peer-reviewed Journals. Crucially, both come from respected specialists in medical ethics and law. Their authority is not in doubt and their conclusions provide a shattering indictment against health professionals who have reneged on their ethical duty to ensure that their actions comply with both the laws of the States in which they practice and with the strict standards of their profession.
In the UK earlier this year, Dr. David Shaw, Lecturer in Ethics in Relation to Dentistry at the Dental School of Glasgow University, re-examined fluoridation in the context of European and English jurisprudence. He concluded that the claim that fluoridated water is not a medicine is pure ‘legal fiction’. His review included commentaries on my own published work on medical law and ethics, and confirmed my claims that both European and English medicinal law apply absolutely to the supply of fluoridated water.
Meanwhile, in Australia, Prof. Niyi Awofeso, Professor of Population Health at the University of Western Australia, has now dealt the pro-fluoridation camp another lethal blow by examining the ethical framework underpinning artificial water fluoridation in Australia. In a superbly balanced and comprehensive analysis he systematically rejects the claims of proponents that fluoridation is medically, socially and economically justified, and concludes that there is insufficient ethical justification for its continued use.
These two new publications are important because they bring scientific rigour and balance to what has so far been a highly polarised and prejudiced confrontation between utterly incompatible sides. Shaw’s analysis examines the interpretation of Lord Jauncey’s decision in McColl v Strathclyde Regional Council, which has been repeatedly and blatantly misquoted by pro-fluoridation advocates, and shows how Jauncey’s verdict reflects both the European Medicines Directives and its transposition into English jurisprudence.
His conclusion that fluoridated water is indeed a medicine inevitably implies that it must be subject to full medicinal regulation. The fundamental claim relied upon by advocates of fluoridation - that it does not involve the use of a drug - is now, and always has been, a lie, and that the practice of enforced mass medication through water fluoridation is indeed medical malpractice of the gravest kind.
Awofeso’s analysis reinforces Shaw’s conclusion by showing that most of the arguments used to vindicate fluoridation do not stand up to careful ethical scrutiny. He is the first authority to recognise the impropriety of proponents presenting analyses claiming to provide accurate analyses of the economic cost-benefits of proposed new projects, but deliberately ignoring the hidden private sector costs involved in treating dental fluorosis induced by water fluoridation. We at UKCAF have reported blatant cases of such creative financial misinformation to the National Health Fraud Unit. Predictably, they have been ignored.
Awofeso systematically examines, and then rejects, the public justification arguments relied on by the Australian health authorities, concluding that
At least on ethical grounds, consideration of current artificial water fluoridation policies is warranted, and a parliamentary debate is a good start to such policy review in Australia.
Moving the debate into the highest level of the Australian political arena is an important development, and an example that will be followed in other countries. After all, if there is no ethical justification for fluoridation in Australia, then on what rational basis do other governments propose to rely in order to continue their support for such a policy?
Distance no protection
This body of recent analytical literature on ethics and law is now sweeping away the illusory support on which the fluoridation paradigm depends. Fluoridated water is a drug, and it is unethical to impose the practice on the public. And since the legal and ethical principles on which these conclusions are based underpin virtually all codes of medical law and practice around the world, it is becoming increasingly problematic to provide convincing arguments that might justify the continuation of this practice elsewhere.
The legal knives are out, and they are firmly pointing towards those who persist in promoting this discredited and illegal medical assault on the public. Earlier this month Ireland’s health minister Dr James Reilly became the first minister in the European Union to be accused of medical assault, by continuing to permit the continued fluoridation of their domestic water supplies by citizens who had sent written denials of consent to accept medication under the State’s policy.
And given the close relationships between the promoters of fluoridation in States as far apart as the UK and Australia, distance will be no problem when the demolition of reputations begins. Even a quick trawl through the Internet provides abundant evidence of the promotional activities of the fluoridation advocates, establishing beyond denial their improper and unlawful endorsement of the illegal supply of this unlicensed drug to the public.
The cozy international camaraderie that promotes the spread of fluoridation around the world is facing its greatest threat yet. Well prepared legal challenges through the Courts are starting to bring a very real element of personal risk into promoting this practice. Citizens and subjects are waking up to the possibility of holding the architects of their children’s disfigured teeth responsible for compensating them for the social rejection and huge remedial dentistry costs that many of them are burdened with later in life.
A wind of change.
The proponents of fluoridation seem remarkably oblivious to their precarious position. They have long ignored their gross violation of medical ethics in imposing this illegal form of clinical intervention on a generally non-consenting public. With the establishment of definitive evidence of its illegality and unethical foundation from respected authorities within the medical sectors own profession, attempting to justify the continuation of water fluoridation can only be regarded as downright perverse.
In marked contrast, the rapidity with which the commercial manufacturers have recognised that water fluoridation has become a commercial liability reveals which way the wind will soon be blowing. Virtually everything that needs to be done in the way of research on fluoridation has already been done, and the funds supporting further research into fluoride’s supposed benefits will now start to dry up. It’s time to call it a day - there are other and better ways to improve children’s teeth, and the dental fraternity should concentrate on putting those techniques into practice.
And it’s time for the opponents of fluoridation to take a harder look at what they are doing, too. Dredging up yet more scientific ‘evidence’ against the practice is both unnecessary and foolish. It merely gives the proponents new ammunition to prolong the pointless argumentation, especially when that evidence is unreliable or its interpretation equivocal.
Too much effort has been put into slinging mud at each others’ experts, and not nearly enough into dealing with the damage that has already occurred. The urgent issue now is not to ‘prove’ whether it is harmful or not, but work out how to identify those whose lives have been damaged.
We urgently need to establish who has been harmed, who was responsible for causing that harm, and ensure that they are brought to account to remedy their grossly improper behaviour. The victims have been appallingly neglected in the past - it is now time to clean up the mess that an indifferent and unconcerned dental profession has left in its negligent wake.
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