The Wretched F word

The campaign against fluoridation has been going for longer than many people realise. In a moving personal testimony, Iva Pocock pays tribute to her late father Robert – and prepares to appear before the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament...

Over 13 years ago, in February 2000, RTÉ television’s Primetime broadcast a report about fluoridation for which I was interviewed. My dad, Robert Pocock, was there when I was being filmed.

I was representing the environmental organisation, Voice Of Irish Concern For The Environment, and discussed the impact of decades of fluoridation on our waters – our streams, rivers and lakes – and on our health.

I subsequently moved on from my job as an environmental campaigner and from the issue of fluoridation. In contrast, my dad became obsessed with it, to the point that my mum, Kerry, could no longer countenance mention of the word: fluoridation was referred to only as “the wretched F word”.

Dad passed away, very unexpectedly, and prematurely, at a mere 70 years of age, on April 21 this year. His departure leaves a huge hole in my life, and in that of my family – but also amongst the ranks of those who are working to end the hidden medication of citizens with fluoride via the public water supply.

Dad had built up a wealth of knowledge about the issue and had taken every opportunity to bring the truth about fluoridation to the public, not just in Ireland but also around the world. Although I only talked sporadically to him about his work, I know that he was really excited about Hot Press’ decision to break the resounding, almost total media silence concerning 50 years of mandatory fluoridation in Ireland. I know his website and his conversations provided plenty of data which helped Adrienne Murphy in her series of exposés.

I have reluctantly decided to rejoin the, thankfully, now growing ranks of Irish citizens who are saying ‘no’ to their enforced medication via the public water supply. I say reluctantly because, in a way, I resent having to put my unpaid time into doing something that legions of civil servants and medical professionals should be doing, if they had a bit of backbone and weren’t so concerned with protecting the status quo, and the reputations that they have built up over 50 years of State fluoridation.

I will limit the time I put into the issue, as my mum couldn’t bear to lose another family member to hours of anti-fluoridation campaigning. But I do plan to attend a meeting of the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels. I’m living in Belgium right now, so it seems sensible for me to hop on the metro rather than someone having to trek over from Ireland.

In 2007, my father took his concerns about the addition of hydrofluorosilicic acid to the majority of Ireland’s public water supply to this very committee. Since then the European Commission has requested a scientific committee to review the issue. The resulting report – currently being used by Alex White, the junior minister for health, to claim that the Commission sees no problem with fluoridation – was severely criticised by scientists and citizens, including my dad, for failing to take on board scientific research that was brought to the committee’s attention.

My intention now is to take the opportunity to really tease out whether or not Irish people can rely on the Eurocrats to protect them from State-mandated medication. Because as it stands, the validity of dosing an entire people with a medicine that’s said to prevent dental caries, by adding this medicine to the public water supply, appears to be seeping through the cracks of Europe’s extensive legislation.

The petition is sponsored by Marian Harkin, MEP, who is vociferous in her opposition to fluoridation. The MEPs who have heard it have kept the issue open for six years. The last time my dad appeared before them, one German MEP, a Christian Democrat from former East Germany, was astounded to hear an EU state was still fluoridating.

“We ended that upon unification,” he said. Indeed Ireland is the only EU member state with compulsory nationwide water fluoridation.

And guess what? Our caries levels are no better than our European neighbours. What’s more, we’ve been drinking water dosed with fluoride for decades now, and despite Minister White’s protestation (in answering Hot Press’ 27 questions) that the Irish authorities have rigorously monitored the health impacts of fluoridation, this is simply not the case. They’ve done a few studies looking at the levels of dental fluorosis (it appears as mottling of the teeth) but they have never looked at the wider health effects of decades of fluoridation.

Under Ireland’s 1960 Fluoridation of Water Supplies Act, the Minister for Health is given powers to arrange for surveys “as respects the health” of persons who live in fluoridated areas. Ironically, while these persons have no choice as to whether their water is fluoridated, section 6 (5) says the Act cannot be “construed as imposing an obligation on any person to submit himself or any person for whom he is responsible to examination”!

As it stands, the EU Commission has said that the process of adding fluorosilicic acid to public drinking water in order to prevent dental caries does not breach any EU legislation. The Commission says the fluoridation of the Irish people via the water in their taps doesn’t breach the Medicinal Products Directive. I disagree utterly.

Under this piece of legislation, and I quote, a medicinal product “is a substance or combination of substances presented as having properties for treating or preventing disease in human beings.” The Commission in response to the European parliamentarians, says that “drinking water from the tap cannot be regarded as a medicinal product.” But that’s not the point. The substance that is the medicine is hydrofluorosilicic acid. It’s bought by the Irish State, from a company that imports it from Spain, and is presented “as having properties for treating or preventing disease in human beings” – in this case dental caries. So it is, very obviously, a medicinal product. It doesn’t take a detailed knowledge of law or toxicology or chemistry or dentistry to see that.

Under the medicinal products legislation, all medical products have to be licensed. At this point, the Irish State, and a number of British Water Companies, are in breach of the medicinal products directive because hydrofluorosilicic acid is not licensed: neither by the Irish Medicines Board, nor by the European Medicines Board, the authorities that license all other medicines that we can ingest to prevent or treat disease.

With that as ammunition, I am asking the MEPs on the committee to call on the Commission to instigate infringement proceedings against the Irish and British States, and the private companies who buy this substance, for purchasing and distributing an unlicensed medicine.

Will they listen? I’m can’t say that I’m optimistic, because it’s hardly a hot issue in the rest of Europe. The Commission say they have to adhere to the principals of subsidiarity and proportionality and that they do not “envisage harmonised EU action in the future” on fluoridation.

So if the Commission continues to wash its hands of an issue that only concerns a fraction of the people of Europe it’ll be down to us, the people of Ireland, on our own, to address the issue.

So Ministers White, Reilly, all of you on the cabinet, why don’t you show some political courage? Stop listening to your officials and start listening to the people.

Over the 10 years my dad campaigned against fluoridation, lily-livered politicians repeatedly baulked at the challenge before them, from the Greens, specifically John Gormley, who promised to end fluoridation in their coalition programme for Government, but didn’t, to the longstanding Minister of Health, Mary Harney, whom Dad once met with another campaigner, Adrian Hamilton, also now deceased. I remember Dad saying that Mary Harney was amazed to hear that there was any controversy over fluoridation. She’d obviously just been listening to her department’s blinkered bureaucrats – and continued to do so.

But Ministers, the times are changing. Thousands of people nationwide now have access to the real story about fluoridation and say they don’t want your medicine. The Town Councils of Skibbereen, New Ross and Carrickmacross don’t want it, and nor do thousands of people signing petitions against fluoridation.

Why don’t you save us all €4 million in annual hydrofluorosilicic acid bills and associated costs, and the cost of yet another court case where the only people to win will be the lawyers. Repeal the 1960 Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act and get the wretched stuff out of our water.

When you do, I, and many others, will raise a glass, of something a lot stronger than fluoride-free water, to my dear darling dad.


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