Call to add fluoride to bottle water

Chantal Rumble
The Age
Mar. 01, 2007

BOTTLED water may soon contain added fluoride amid rising concerns about childhood tooth decay.

Consumer, health and industry groups were united yesterday in calls for the national food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, to overturn its ban on added fluoride. Only naturally occurring fluoride is allowed in bottled water.

Two months ago Prime Minister John Howard described the increase in tooth decay as a national tragedy and called for parents to give children at least one glass of fluoridated tap water a day.

Consumer watchdog Choice said allowing manufacturers to add fluoride to some bottled water would help arrest the dramatic increase in children's tooth decay.

A survey by the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health last year showed the rate of permanent tooth decay among 14 and 15-year-olds had increased by more than 70 per cent in the six years to 2002. And about 20 per cent of children aged five and under get at least one filling when they visit the dentist.

"It's the young people from this recent bottled-water generation who are exhibiting the problems with their teeth," Choice spokeswoman Indira Naidoo said. "We want people to have the option of fluoride in their bottled water and we want the manufacturers to clearly label which ones have fluoride and which ones don't," she said.

Australian Dental Association chief executive Robert Boyd-Boland said: "It has been a concern to us that there has been an increased consumption of bottled water that doesn't contain fluoride and that this could be, in part, a factor in the increased decay rates that are being evidenced in children."

Australian Beverages Council chief executive Tony Gentile, in Canberra yesterday to lobby the Government to overturn the ban on added fluoride in bottled water, said bottled water was not linked to the increase in children's tooth decay.

"We believe that the industry is unfairly accused of being a contributor to the rising levels of dental decay It's due to a multiplicity of other factors including poor dental hygiene and the lack of fluoride in some tap water," he said.

Instead, the bottled-water sector wanted the ban overturned to open another product line.

Australians buy more than 700 million litres of bottled water annually. In the US, where added fluoride is approved, fortified water makes up about 10 per cent of the market.

The Australian Beverages Council has applied to Food Standards Australia New Zealand for permission to add fluoride to bottled water, but this could take up to 12 months. Its application will not be looked into until September.

Regulator spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said all applications to fortify food and beverages with vitamins and minerals required rigorous safety assessment and rounds of public comment before approval.

Freedom from Fluoridation Federation of Australia chairman Glen Walker said there was no scientific proof fluoride worked or was safe. "Fluoride is one of the great health scams and money rorts of the century. Compulsory fluoridation has turned out a complete failure because dental decay around Australia is epidemic," he said.

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