New Zealand opens up mineral water fluoride debate

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bottled water, Drinking water, Water

Added-fluoride bottled water may soon be hitting chillers and shelves across New Zealand and Australia as authorities debates whether to bring their national formulation regulations inline with those of markets like the US.

As part of a draft assessment currently being considered by the​Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), allowing the voluntary addition of the halogen fluoride to packaged water is being considered between levels of 0.6 mg and 1 mg per litre.

While the practice is already voluntary in the US, other markets like the UK only allow fluoride use in tap water, amidst wider concerns over the potential link of increased intake with the health condition fluorosis.

Fluorosis is a condition relating to the excessive consumption of fluoride, which can stain and in some cases damage teeth.

FSANZ view

The assessment, which relates to an application made by Australian beverage makers in august 2006, calls for the production and labelling of bottled water fortified with fluoride, which some studies link to ensuring improved dental health.

As part of its study, FSANZ said that it looked at whether fluoride use in bottled water was a suitable substitute for fluoridated reticulated water, assessing factors such as nutritional equivalence and its safety history of use in drinking water.

In the findings, the bi-national safety agency said that fluoride in bottled water was nutritionally equivalent to tap water at the recommended levels, and that there was no evidence of adverse effects on vulnerable population groups from consuming such products.

Although the assessment highlighted the occurrence of ‘very mild’ and ‘mild’ fluorosis in Australian and New Zealand citizens, the agency said there was no evidence to support fears over a prevalence of the health condition from fluoride use in water.

In reviewing the recommended addition of between 0.6 mg and 1 mg per litre, FSANZ said that there was a risk children up to eight years may exceed the upper level of Fluoride intake from water.

However, the agency conceded that these estimates were based on dietary information models from the 1940’s, which were less positively skewed, meaning the current upper level limits for fluoride use in water was likely to be underestimated.

Respondents wishing to submit their opinions to FSANZ over their views for voluntary addition of fluoride to packaged water have until 23 December this year to send in their opinions.

Worldwide fluoride fortification

According to trade body, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), 20 US bottling companies, some of which are national producers, supply fluoridated water brands. Under the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, as with municipal water supplies, the addition of fluoride to water is permitted voluntarily.

This is in stark contrast to other markets in the EU, where taking the UK as an example, fluoride may be permitted in tap water, but not in mineral or spring-sourced supplies.

The British Soft Drink Association (BSDA) says that only carbon dioxide (CO2) can be added to bottled water.

More information on the assessment can be found here.

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