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Food irradiation plans protested

The thought of eating food shot through with gamma rays of cobalt was thoroughly unappetizing to Clearwater nutritionist Katherine Marich. "Radiation is about the worst thing you can put into your body, and into the environment," said Marich, who pictured her hair falling out at the thought.

So Marich, along with about 20 others, marched through the streets Saturday, seeking to stir up public outrage at plans to build a food irradiation plant in Mulberry.

"We don't want it and we don't need it," Mary Zadak of Mulberry said. The $6.25-million plant now under construction and due to open in late spring will use small doses of radiation to prolong the shelf life of foods by killing bacteria.

Sam Whitney, president of Vindicator of Florida, which is building the plant, said the cobalt-60 treatments will make strawberries last two to three weeks longer and will kill fruit fly larvae in citrus fruits. The federal government also has approved irradiation to control salmonella and other bacteria in poultry.

But opponents say irradiation can lead to mutations and cancer, by dramatically altering food's molecular structure.

They also say the plant poses an environmental threat to workers, who would be exposed to radioactive materials, and to area residents, whose ground water could be contaminated.

Whitney, who did not attend the protest, said he was not bothered by it because so few people turned out. He said he believes most residents are in favor of the plant.