China Investigates ‘Golden Rice’

As China tightens food safety regulations amid various accusations, including the discovery of a cancer-causing toxin in baby formula, China is now investigating claims that genetically-modified ‘Golden Rice’ was tested on Chinese children, from The Global Times:

China has issued clear regulations on human biological medical research, and has always followed international conventions in line with the country’s own situation, spokesman Deng Haihua said in response to a question on a human trial of GM rice at a press conference on Tuesday.

[...] According to the China CDC on Monday, a Chinese researcher involved in the controversial testing of GM rice has been suspended from his work and been placed under investigation.

China CDC is investigating whether dozens of children in central China’s Hunan Province were used as test subjects in a US-China joint research project in 2008 that included Golden Rice, a GM food.

Greenpeace broke the news on the controversial test in late August, saying the joint research involved feeding Golden Rice, which is genetically modified to be rich in beta carotene, to 24 children aged between six and eight years old in Hunan.

According to Reuters India, the research was a joint project between Chinese scientists and Tufts University:

The research by Tufts University and other Chinese scientists was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August. It aimed to demonstrate that the rice could provide a good source of vitamin A for children in countries where deficiency in the vitamin is common.

Andrea Grossman, assistant director of public relations at Tufts University, told state news agency Xinhua in a recent interview the university was deeply concerned about the allegations and is reviewing protocols used in the 2008 research “to ensure the strictest standards were adhered to”.

“We have always placed the highest importance on human health, and we take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of human research subjects,” Grossman said.

“We have always been and remain committed to the highest ethical standards in research,” she said.

Xinhua reports the China CDC claims it never approved the research trial:

China CDC reported the latest progress of the investigation, saying its fellow researcher Yin Shi’an, the third author of the paper, was inconsistent in his accounts during the investigation. As a result, China CDC has suspended his work and put him under further investigation.

Also according to China CDC, none of its affiliate institutes had ever approved or participated in the research of Golden Rice. The paper has not been submitted to the Ministry of Health for ethic examination or approval.

Its lead author, Tang Guangwen, director of the Carotenoid and Health Laboratory of Tuft University in the United States, insisted that the study had been conducted with all regulatory approval required by each country.

China CDC stated that its scientific review committee had asked Tang to provide supporting materials and a detailed report of the research, and also asked Tufts University to investigate the matter and offer a detailed report.

The investigation was prompted by a statement released in August by Greenpeace. AFP adds:

In a statement in August, Greenpeace called for an investigation and said the experiment took place in China’s central province of Hunan in 2008.

“It is incredibly disturbing to think that an American research body used Chinese children as guinea pigs for genetically engineered food,” it said.

Supporters say Golden Rice, which appears yellow or orange in colour, could help reduce child mortality by providing Vitamin A to those lacking it from their diets.

Tea Leaf Nation gives more background on the situation and translates netizens’ responses.