Greenpeace alarmed at US-backed GE food trial on Chinese children
Greenpeace International, 29 August 2012
Beijing has expressed alarm at a recent scientific publication (1) that suggests researchers, backed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) (2), fed genetically engineered (GE) Golden Rice to 24 children (3) in China aged between six and eight years old.
This study could not have taken place without a serious breach of scientific and medical ethics, and goes against a Chinese government decision to abort plans for the trial. It would be a scandal of international proportions if it is true that this trial, supported by the USDA, exposed children in China to genetically modified rice that had not yet been tested on animals.
In response to this alarming news, Fang Lifeng, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said:
"It is incredibly disturbing to think that an American research body used Chinese children as guinea pigs for genetically engineered food, despite a clear directive against this very experiment issued by Chinese authorities in 2008.
"How did these researchers apparently by-pass this emphatic decision? More importantly, did the children’s parents fully understand the potential risks that this trial was exposing their children to?"
In 2008 Greenpeace East Asia first heard of this experiment and immediately informed the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry confirmed with Greenpeace that no Golden Rice had been imported and the trial had been stopped; however these new findings reveal that not to be the case.
The relevance of this study is questionable, as it tested the conversion of pro-Vitamin A from Golden Rice in the bodies of healthy, well-nourished children not the target population of malnourished children, whose bodies might not in fact react similarly. Nor does high conversion rate solve all the technical, environmental and ethical issues around Golden Rice.
This experiment might try and position Golden Rice as the golden bullet to vitamin A deficiency, especially for developing countries. However, Greenpeace East Asia believes that Golden Rice as a solution to Vitamin A deficiency is unnecessary and overrated. The vast sums of money spent developing Golden Rice (4) would be better channeled into programs that are working against vitamin A deficiency, such as pro-Vitamin A pills and supporting measures for more diverse diets.
Lifeng concluded: "Greenpeace hopes the Chinese government will uphold its previous emphatic decision to stop this experiment. Greenpeace calls for a thorough investigation into this case and that adequate support be provided to the affected children and their parents."
(1) Tang et al. 2012, "Beta-carotene in Golden Rice is as good as beta-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96: 658 64.
(2) The authors are affiliated with the American Research Service (ARS), which is the in-house research arm of USDA. The Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) (where 3 of the principal researchers are affiliated) is one of the six centers in the US supported by ARS. HNRCA has a cooperative agreement with Tufts University, as the research center is located within Tufts University.
(3) 68 children were randomly assigned to consume GR. The results of the study indicate that 23 childen in the GR group were used: 12 boys and 11 girls.
(4) Greenpeace 2010 Golden Rice: Lack of Lustre. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/Golden-rice-report-2010/