Anatomy of an anti-fluoridation myth

By Ken Perrott 24/09/2013


The internet seems to nurture and promote myths. Consequently it’s a great place for the ideologically motivated person desiring a  bit of  ”evidence” for their confirmation bias. They can even get a bit pretentious and call their googling “research.”

Phil Evans on the New Zealand Fluoride Free Facebook page, provides an example of just such a myth. He is also someone who claims to have “been researching fluoride” for “many years.”

Europe has banned fluoridation?

Phil’s article is a hatchet job on the Ministry of Health’s new website on Community Water Fluoridation. He has produced what he claims is a  ”long list of factually incorrect information” on that site. I will just deal with one issue here – his promotion of the myth that Europe has banned fluoridation of public water supplies. Partly because it is a popular myth for anti-fluoridation activists – but also because it illustrates the nature of the “research” done by many activists – and the unreliability of relying on any old link that Google throws up in that “research.”

He rips into Robyn Haisman-Welch, Chief Dental Officer from the Ministry of Health:

“She is not being honest about the reason fluoridation was removed in Europe, which is a European Court ruling banning the practice because it was illegal to force medication on the public.”

He also makes this claim about the European Court in his second paragraph. Taking issue with references to the use of milk and salt fluoridation or use of other alternative methods in Europe he claims:

“The actual reason is that the European Court ruled some years ago that using fluoridation chemicals was medical intervention, and was therefore illegal. It has nothing to do with practicalities.”

The myth

So there it is – the anti-fluoridation myth. Europe has banned community water fluoridation. The European Court has called the practice “illegal.”

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Fluoridation banned in Europe – a common anti-fluoridationist claim

The point is that using Google and confirmation bias as your “research” tools it is easy to find support for the claim. Do a search for “European Court” and “fluoride” and you have all the “evidence” you need to confirm your bias (but none from a primary source like the European Court). It’s there on Fluoride Alert, Fluoride Action Network of NZ (FANNZ) and any number of  political, alternative lifestyle, alternative health or diet, and conspiracy theory websites.

Statements like:

“The European Court of Justice has defined fluoridation as a medication and has refused to sanction its implementation.”

“… the European Court of Justice recently determined that fluoride is a medicine, and therefore water fluoridation is a form of forced medication.”

Now, the trouble with this “research” is the difficulty of checking with any primary source. If the claims are referenced, they cite similar articles from similarly unreliable sources, not primary sources. (Fluoride Alert and FANNZ have made an art form out of circular citations – they very often just cite themselves).

However, I did find what appears to be the origin of this myth, because it is very frequently quoted – an article by Doug Cross at the UK Campaign Against fluoridation website. He claims:

“Fluoridated water must be treated as a medicine, and cannot be used to prepare foods! That is the decision of the European Court of Justice, in a landmark case dealing with the classification and regulation of ‘functional drinks’ in member states of the European Community. (HLH Warenvertriebs and Orthica (Joined Cases C-211/03, C-299/03, C-316/03 and C-318/03) 9 June2005)”

Often the quote marks used when this is quoted give the impression they are quoting from the actual European Court of Justice ruling. Which is wrong – the document does not refer to fluoridation at all!

Also, while the title of the Court judgement is often given it is never linked to the document itself.

The Court decision

The specific ruling referred to in the Doug Cross’s often quoted  article is easily found by searching on the European Court of Justice web site – providing you don’t use “fluoride” or “fluoridation” in the search.” Those words just don’t occur in the document.  In fact “water” only shows up a few times.

So here is the judgement – JUDGMENT OF THE COURT In Joined Cases C-211/03, C-299/03 and C-316/03 to C‑318/03.

The judgement refers to a conflict between the Netherlands and Germany over trade in a few food items. The codes in the title refer to these items. They are:

  • C-211/03, Lactobact omni FOS in powdered form; one gram of powder contains at least 1 000 000 000 organisms from the following bacterial strains: lactobacillus acidophilus, lactococcus lactis, E. faecium, bifidobacterium bifidum, lactobacillus casei and lactobacillus thermophilus; the recommended consumption is approximately 2 g per day, dissolved in half a glass of water or with yoghurt, although the dose is doubled where the need is greater and during the first four weeks of taking it;
  • C-299/03, C 1000 in tablet form containing, in particular, 1 000 mg of vitamin C, 30 mg of citrus bioflavonoids, hesperidin rutin complex and other ingredients; the recommended consumption is one tablet per day;
  • C-316/03, OPC 85 in tablet form containing, in particular, 50 mg of extract of bioflavonol – oligomere procyanidine; the recommended consumption is one tablet per day;
  • C-317/03, Acid Free C-1000 in tablet form containing, in particular, 1 110 mg of ascorbate of calcium – 1 000 mg of vitamin C and 110 mg of calcium; the recommended consumption is one tablet per day;
  • C-318/03, E-400 in tablet form, containing 268 mg of vitamin E; the recommended consumption is one tablet per day.

Yes, a key issue in the case was whether some of these products should really be classified as medicines and not foods, or that they contained genetically modified or novel organisms, and therefore trade in them is not permitted under food regulations. But how the hell this judgement can be used to claim that the court had ruled “fluoridated water must be treated as a medicine, and cannot be used to prepare foods” is beyond me.

What has this to do with fluoridation?

I know I am not a lawyer. I can understand how a lawyer for FANNZ might use this case as an argument in their own attempts to make fluoridation illegal. And they are welcome to attempt this – although I suspect they won’t get very far by relying on that judgement.

But one thing is abundantly clear to anyone with basic comprehension skills. This judgment did not rule that fluoridated water is a medicine. Or that it cannot be used to prepare foods. And it did not rule that trade in foodstuffs from New Zealand would be banned by Europe as some of these sources were claiming.

So another anti-fluoridation myth hits the dust. Except it won’t. It will be repeated ad nauseum by anti-fluoridation activists. They will even give links to “prove” their claims. And those activists will claim they are doing “research.”

unfortunately, like many other stories told by anti-fluoridation activists, a bit of critical thinking and deeper searching proves the myth to be based on a complete lie.

The lesson

Something to remember when using Google for research – the rubbish, as in other situations, usually rises to the top. It is the easiest to find and gets the most hits. Oh, yes – be careful with that confirmation bias – it will trip you up.

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
Fluoridate our water Facebook page
New Zealanders for fluoridation Facebook page