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Trio behind Golden Rice furore fired by Chinese authorities

By RJ Whitehead , 07-Dec-2012

The “Golden Rice” scandal that has panicked parents and called into question research methods at an American university has seen a new development with the sacking of three officials in China.

The trio, who approved and conducted a joint China-US test of genetically modified rice on unwitting schoolchildren in China’s Hunan province have each been removed from their posts.

According to a statement jointly released by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences (ZAMS) and Hunan CDC, their respective employees were removed for “violating relevant regulations, scientific ethics and academic integrity.”

The institutions added that they were deeply sorry about the negative impact caused by the test.

Methods under question

In August, Greenpeace disclosed that researchers had fed Golden Rice to 25 children aged between six and eight years old in 2008. The research team had earlier briefed the children’s parents but had not told them that the test would involve food that had been genetically modified to be rich in beta carotene. The study was intended to explore ways in preventing deficiency of vitamin A among children.

China CDC since found that the researchers had handed out only the last page of informed consent forms to the children’s parents and asked them to sign on the page, which had no word referring to Golden Rice, nor the fact that the rice being fed to the children was a kind of GM food.

Yin Shi’an, China CDC’s National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety’s maternity and child nutrition director, and Wang Yin, a ZAMS section chief—two of the three who were sacked—“concealed the main facts and provided false information, severely disturbing the probe,” China CDC said in the statement.

The third, Hu Yuming, an official of the Hunan provincial CDC, was removed from office for failure in supervision and dereliction of duty, and was warned by the Party committee of the provincial CDC.

Unwitting parents

To proceed with the study, Tang Guangwen, director of the Carotenoid and Health Laboratory of Tufts University in the United States, cooked the Golden Rice before travelling to china in 2008 without due declaration, the statement alleges. In co-operation with Yin and Wang, he later recooked it and fed it to the children.

While there is no proof that eating 60g of the rice—the portions given to the test subjects—would be in any way harmful to the children, their parents panicked upon finding out that the test involved GM food. Indeed, online rumours suggested that those who had eaten the Golden Rice would become impotent in later life.

Tufts University is currently investigating the case on suspicion of ethical violations. While the Massachusetts institution is aware of the announcement made by the Chinese authorities, Andrea Grossman, its spokesperson, said it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage.

While we respect China’s review process, which has led to this statement, it would be premature for Tufts University to reach any conclusions before investigations currently under way in the United States are completed,” she told the Xinhua news agency.

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