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GM rice trial ethics in the spotlight in China

A joint US–China research project involving the testing of a genetically modified crop on children has come under scrutiny in China.

A Chinese researcher was suspended on 9 September as an investigation was started by China’s health ministry into the standards of a study conducted in Hunan province in 2008. Last month a Greenpeace report highlighted potential problems with the project in which 24 Chinese children aged between six and eight were used as test subjects.

According to the People’s Daily, the study had not received approval from the Hunan provincial health or agriculture authorities. Officials also said that the research paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August had not been submitted to China’s health ministry for approval.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspended one of the authors, Shi-an Yin, from work pending further investigation after his responses “proved to be inconsistent”, the CDC said, according to Xinhua news agency. Reuters reported that Yin was quoted by the People’s Daily as saying that he had helped collect data for the study but was unaware that it involved GM rice.

“Golden rice” contains beta carotene and is intended to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, found in children in a number of countries, including Bangladesh and The Philippines. The study findings said that golden rice had proved to be more efficient in providing A vitamin to children than oil or spinach.

Andrea Grossman, assistant director of public relations at Tufts University, which ran the study, told Xinhua that the university is extremely concerned over the allegations and is reviewing the protocols used in order “to ensure the strictest standards were adhered to.

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

China is the world’s largest grower of GM cotton and the top importer of GM soybeans, according to Reuters. Beijing has approved home-grown strains of GM rice but remains cautious about introducing it on a commercial basis because public concerns about food safety.