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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Public to decide on water fluoridation
Water
Only 11% of the population have fluoridated water
Water companies could be forced to add fluoride to tap water in areas where health bosses and the public request it.

Public health minister Melanie Johnson has confirmed that the measure will be included in an amendment to the Water Bill.

It would take decisions on fluoridation out of the hands of the privatised utilities which now control the water supply.

Critics fear fluoride could be linked to increased risks of cancer, hip fractures, kidney trouble and birth defects.

To medicate the whole population against their will is not the way to deal with tooth decay
Jane Jones, National Pure Water
But the government has previously insisted there is no evidence to support claims of health risks from adding chemicals to drinking water.

The amendment will be debated next week before a third reading of the Bill in the House of Lords.

Ms Johnson said there was a "strong correlation" between fluoridation and better dental health.

She told MPs on Tuesday: "What we are enabling is for local communities to decide what they want to do on this matter.

"No fluoridation scheme will go ahead unless there has been wide-ranging consultations in which both the proponents and the opponents of fluoridation have been encouraged to participate and the majority of the population have indicated that they are in favour."

The move was welcomed by Andy Burnham, Labour MP for Leigh, who said: "Can I thank you for ignoring the bluster of the flat earth society and agreeing to bring forward an amendment that will help improve children's health in this country."

Opposition

But Andrew Murrison, the Conservative MP for Westbury, said countries including Canada, Finland, Cuba and parts of Germany were abandoning water fluoridation but not seeing any change in tooth decay rates.

"Why should we be considering bucking that trend in this country and introducing this illiberal measure?"

Charles Hendry, Conservative MP for Wealden, said there was already too much interference in what we eat and drink.

"While I accept that there is a positive dental benefit from fluoridation, shouldn't the government be concentrating on the real cause of the problem which is the amount of sugar that children are consuming?"

Large area of the east of England have naturally-occurring fluoride in their water supplies.

Fluoride is already added to the water supplied to approximately 5 million people in areas such as Birmingham.

Jane Jones, of the National Pure Water campaign group, has coordinated opposition to the fluoridation of water supplies.

She says: "To medicate the whole population against their will is not the way to deal with tooth decay."

But the idea is backed by the British Dental Association, which believes fluoridation would have a significant positive impact on the health of children's teeth.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Dentists believe the benefits of fluoride in tap water are clear"



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