By Alistair Harding
On New Year's Day, I woke up at 8 am in a friend’s caravan with nothing to do while I waited for our agreed breakfast time of 10 am.
So with time on my hands, I went looking for something to read. And that’s when I came across my friend’s stash of holiday books. One book in particular caught my attention, titled:
‘Eats shoots and leaves’.
It was a book all about punctuation, and its title refers to how one little comma has the power to completely change a sentence’s meaning. In this case, into something rather lewd (I’ll let you work that one out).
But that title somehow also got me thinking about something altogether different, yet completely the same. In this case, it was the documentary ‘Fluoride on the Brain’ that I had just completed for Reality Check Radio.
It reminded me of ‘Fluoride on the Brain’, because during my study on the subject of fluoride, I came across a recurring statement:
‘There is no evidence that fluoride harms an unborn child growing in its mother’s womb’.
Another: ‘There is no evidence fluoride affects a child’s IQ’.
And another: ‘There is no evidence that fluoride is harmful…”
Do you see the pattern? ‘There is no evidence’.
And that’s the point I’m making about the comma. What I had come to realise was that ‘There is no evidence’ doesn’t actually mean what you think it does. What it sounds like is that ‘they’ have studied the subject thoroughly and ‘they’ have established there is no harm done by consuming fluoride.
But what it actually means is that there have been no studies done to see if fluoride is harmful, therefore ‘there is no evidence’ of any harm. See the difference now?
If there’s been no studies to examine if fluoride is harmful, then apparently it’s perfectly ok to suggest to everyone that it’s completely safe without explaining they actually have no idea.
And that’s the same power of the comma in the book title: ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’. It turns a comforting sentence into one that makes you feel slightly dirty.
Bloomfield’s Last Day
The reason we made the ‘Fluoride on the Brain’ documentary was mostly because of the announcement made by Ashley Bloomfield, our former Director-General of Health, on July 27, 2022.
It was Bloomfield’s last day in the job, and he took that moment as his opportunity to announce that under the new Health Amendment Act of 2021, he was taking the opportunity to order 14 local councils to fluoridate all or part of their drinking water supplies.
The Health Amendment Act had transferred the power to fluoridate water supplies from elected local councils to the unelected Director-General of Health. And it also made it law for councils to follow such an order without consulting their communities.
His reasoning, he said, was that dental caries (tooth decay) is the most prevalent chronic disease in New Zealand, and that fluoride in our water is the most safe, effective and cost-effective way of making that problem go away. And in addition, it also would rebalance the inequalities Maori and Pasifika children suffer from; who suffer most from tooth decay when compared to the ‘other’ category that the rest of us are lumped into.
It was an announcement that in hindsight appears more a product of the moment in time than the health problem it addressed. No one is dying from a lack of fluoride, so mass-medicating everyone with something that our communities have traditionally decided on, seems more a reflection of the cult of safety-ism that the covid fear bubble had built.
And Bloomfield’s language on that day reflected it, when he commented that not only was fluoride ‘safe and effective’, but he also stated it was an opportunity for councils to ‘protect their most vulnerable citizens’.
Could he have been more ‘covid-era' if he tried?
And if Bloomfield was going to use the same language, so too was the media going to slip into its usual supportive role. One reporter even asked: “Why aren’t you making all the councils fluoridate their water?”
If there is one concept that sums up health policy in New Zealand born in those days, it is the idea that you could ‘make’ people take a medication.
‘There is no evidence’ that anyone even cringed when she said it.
An Ageing Science
Looking back, it’s hard not to think that Bloomfield was maybe just trying his luck before a new report became widely known – showing some alarming dangers of fluoride.
That report – a 1500-page examination of fluoride by the National Toxicology Program – a US government body – was released as a first draft in 2019 and was going through a review process at the time of Bloomfield’s announcement.
And what it showed was that of the 19 most high-quality studies done on fluoride, 18 of them concluded that fluoride lowers IQ in children by about 5-7 IQ points. And this included studies from places like Canada where a similar level of fluoride is dosed into the drinking water.
To be clear, from previous research about lead, a 5% decrease across New Zealand in IQ would double our number of mentally challenged citizens.
But at the same time the NTP report was being reviewed, Bloomfield’s announcement was intent on either ignoring it or downplaying it: Yes, the 2019 draft report had been looked at; but no, the level of fluoride dosed in our water is far too low to be of any danger.
And besides, Fluoride, he repeated, was the most safe, effective, and cost-effective way of dealing with New Zealand’s tooth decay problem. And furthermore, it was claimed at the time, that there was over 60 years of evidence to show there is a 40% reduction in tooth decay in places where fluoride is dosed into our water.
And in truth, when I started making ‘Fluoride on the Brain’, I thought that was probably the uneasy middle ground that the matter would end up settling on.
That yes, there is evidence of lowering IQ. But like the government says, at less than 1 mg/l the dose of fluoride in our water is far too low to cause damage. And besides, everyone just knows it stops tooth decay.
But then I went to the Ministry of Health’s website and looked up the oral health statistics for Kiwi 5-year-olds. Since the statistics were divided into ‘fluoridated’ and ‘un-fluoridated’ categories, I thought maybe we could visualise the difference in graphs so we could show everyone how effective it really is before we tackled the issue of toxicity.
Maybe we could calm everyone’s nerves on the topic.
The only problem was that it didn’t show that at all. Instead, it showed that currently, around New Zealand, there is less tooth decay in 5-year-olds who live in un-fluoridated areas of the country.
If you don’t believe me, go look for yourself. I’m sure there are arguments that can defeat my amateur attempts at data analysis. And if there are, I’d love to hear them.
Which in the end, is the point of this story. No one who is forcing fluoride on us all is willing to talk and debate and discuss the issue.
And when that happens, ‘there is no evidence’ suddenly means something else.
What’s the Full Story?
What I found out in making ‘Fluoride on the Brain’, was quite incredible.
Did you know that the fluoride used in New Zealand to dose our water is actually hydrofluorosilicic acid which is a toxic by-product of the fertiliser industry?
And did you know that it is so toxic that when they feed fluoride into our water supplies, the people doing the job have to wear full Hazmat suits?
And at every station where they might come in contact with the substance, there is an emergency shower so it can be washed off immediately.
I couldn’t help but ask myself, why would anyone want to put anything nearing that sort of toxicity into our water?
So instead of that sort of risk, why don’t we look at Scotland’s ChildSmile programme? After all, haven’t the Scots got less child tooth decay than New Zealand since they implemented that initiative?
And why aren’t we looking at our Maori history; which was established by Weston Price in the 1930s when he studied pre-European skulls and found almost zero evidence of tooth decay? Surely we might learn something by studying the traditional Maori diet or lifestyle.
And when we look at that, perhaps we’ll find it has something to do with sugar. Since Maori didn’t have sugar in those days? After all, isn’t the fact that sugar causes cavities the one thing that the WHO and the New Zealand Ministry of Health, and even opponents of fluoride agree on?
And that’s just a few examples of the questions I would have loved to have talked to the Ministry of Health about. But they didn’t want to appear in ‘Fluoride on the Brain’.
Which made me ask one more question. Why wouldn’t they want to tell their side of the story?
This Isn’t About Fluoride
In the end, I can’t help but think that this story isn’t about how toxic fluoride is. That story is currently being fought over and the NTP report is just the latest salvo. And I suspect that one day we’ll tell a similar story to that which we tell about tobacco or lead.
Rather, I think this story, ultimately, is about the state of democracy in New Zealand today.
Because this situation is absurd.
Putting toxic substances in our water supplies should never be the only option we have to combat tooth decay. And all options should be provided to us by our government and media to discuss them openly.
And passing laws to say the public shouldn’t be consulted should never be the best method of legislation.
And most importantly, the infringement on our Bill of Rights in this particular situation is clear and obvious. In fact, it’s so clear and obvious that in a case brought by New Health New Zealand against the Director-General of Health, the High Court recently ruled that Bloomfield’s order was unlawful because it didn’t take into account the Bill of Rights.
And that’s a decision that will now apply its precedent to all cases that infringe on our basic rights in the future.
But in the meantime, we await the result of the New Health New Zealand case that will be decided in February. And hopefully, some form of democracy will resume and we’ll all fall out of love with the Covid-era mandate style of public health and New Zealanders will once again have the right to decide if we want fluoride in our water or not.
And perhaps at that point, all New Zealanders can also be provided with the NTP report to read some of the evidence in that as well.
And maybe from that, we’ll truly be able to say “There is no evidence…”
In the meantime, there’s always ‘Fluoride on the Brain’ to watch, share, and discuss with all your friends and family.