By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
A nuclear engineer and a biologist were at Sonora Elementary School's board meeting last night to dispel concerns about irradiated meat and poultry.
Schools across the nation must decide whether to serve irradiated meat in cafeterias after receiving a letter from the Department of Agriculture informing them the meat is available for purchase in January.
But Sonora Elementary trustees, despite last night's testimony, will research the subject and talk to more parents before adding irradiated meat to the cafeteria menu.
So far none of Tuolumne County's schools have made the move.
Advocates of irradiated meat say the process which involves exposing meat to gamma rays, electron beams and X-rays to kill bacteria and parasites decreases the risk of food-borne illness.
Others say the long-term effects of eating zapped meat is untested and the food should not be fed to children.
Although retired nuclear engineer Bill Whitling and retired biologist Don Morrison said irradiated meat is absolutely safe and that the process can eliminate contaminants and extend shelf life, parent Carmen Brush spoke against the process.
If Sonora Elementary alerted parents that irradiated meats were being served in the lunch line, Brush said, "I'm a parent who would choose not to send my children through the cafeteria that day."
The one phone call Ken Harbord, Sonora Elementary School District superintendent, received on the subject was from another parent.
" 'I don't know if it's healthy or not, all I know is, my kid's not going to eat it,' " the parent told Harbord.
Trustee Don Rolle, an advocate for irradiated food, said he suspected a lot of parents would feel like Brush and the caller, and that the cafeteria would lose money. Irradiated meat costs between 2 and 5 cents more per pound than the meat the school now uses.
"Basically, this comes down to an economic issue, not a health issue," Rolle said.
Before a minimal audience, Morrison and Whitling touted the safety benefits of irradiation.