Last October the South Taranaki District Council won a costly four-year court battle for the right to fluoridate the water supplies of Patea and Waverley. New Health NZ, which took High Court action to prevent fluoridation, appealed several times against the decisions that went against them. Now the Supreme Court of New Zealand has granted New Health NZ the right to appeal those decisions (see Supreme court grant right for another appeal for New Zealand’s fluoride “test case”).
Hopefully, a Supreme Court rejection of their appeals will put an end to the matter. But it has been an expensive process. South Taranaki District Council’s corporate services group manager Phillippa Wilson said: “The costs to date are in excess of $320,000.”
Follow the money
If there is any justice the courts this time will award costs to the Council. But how is it that an anti-fluoridation group can afford to take such costly legal action – and continue taking it despite many defeats?
The answer is big business backing. New Health NZ is not supported by donations from anti-fluoride activists. It is financed by big business – specifically the “natural”/alternative health industry through their lobby group, the NZ Health Trust. This lobby groups set up New Health NZ as an incorporated society whose functions seems to be almost exclusively the campaign against fluoride.
It is quite easy to see the money flows (although specific details are not available) because the annual statement of income and expenditure for the NZ Health trust and New Health NZ are available on-line.
Between 2013 and 2016 the NZ Health Trust received grants ranging from $190,000 – $320,000. Always round figures indicating lump sum grants. It has listed “consultancy and legal expenses” ranging between $74,000 and $208,400. I assume these have been for their other ongoing campaigns on Natural and Traditional Health Products legislation.
But the interesting figure is the “Grants and Donations” made by the NZ Health trust. This was zero in 2013 but has ranged from $110,000 – $130,000 between 2014 and 2016.
Those figures fit in with the declared “Grants received” by New Health NZ: zero in 2013, $100,00 in 2014 and $95,000 in 2015. Again – round figures indicating lump sum payments instead of donations. Most of this was paid out as “Professional and Consultancy Fees” by New Health NZ.
This fits in with the sort of legal expenses involved in taking these High Court actions. The graph below illustrates the movement of funding from the “natural”/alternative health industry, through the NZ Health Trust – New Health NZ to legal funding. No transfers occurred in 2013 and we do not yet have the New Health NZ financial report for 2016.
The “natural”/alternative health industry in New Zealand was estimated to be worth $1.4 billion dollars in 2015 (see Inside story: Alternative medicines, quackery or not?). It is also growing fast – 40% in the five years up to 2015. As a big business, with a strong ideological flavour, it can afford and is motivated to take the sort of legal action we have seen in South Taranaki.
But the influence of the “natural”/alternative health industry does not stop at funding legal actions. According to the 2015 article, there are also a bewildering:
“multitude of alternative health practitioners such as homeopaths, naturopaths, osteopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, iridologists, reflexologists, aromatherapists, massage therapists and goodness knows who else.”
“ACC payments to osteopaths, chiropractors and acupuncturists alone have more than doubled in the past decade and are now around $40 million a year.”
Have a look at the huge number of submissions on fluoridation made to local councils over the years – or even the submissions to the Parliamentary Health Committee considering current legislative changes to fluoridation. You will see large numbers of “alternative health professionals.” They have the ideological motivation – and, as self-employed “practitioners,” they seem to have the time for such activism.
Then look at the propaganda disseminated by these activists – much of it comes from publications and websites of the “alternative” health industry. Or look at the main US anti-fluoride activist group – the Fluoride Action Network (FAN). It receives the bulk of its funding from Mercola.com – a well established alternative health company.
An unholy alliance?
Most New Zealanders have had a gutsful of the never-ending fluoridation issue. Local councils certainly have. After the consultation fiasco in Hamilton one councilor’s recommendation to other councils was:
“If you can stay out of the fluoridation debate, stay out of it, it’s an absolute nightmare.”
This “debate” has only gone on as long as it has because of an alliance between big business – the “natural”/alternative health industry – with big pockets, and ideologically motivated activists on the ground able to swamp decision makers with meaningless submissions.
Feature image: Main street, Patea. Photo credit: TrekEarth