Medical ethics group OK'd GM rice test for Chinese kids

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, September 8, 2012
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A medical research institution in Zhejiang Province admitted yesterday it had approved a widely panned US-China joint project that used dozens of Chinese children as guinea pigs in a trial of a new type of genetically modified rice.

The study protocol was approved by the Ethics Review Committee of Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences in 2003, but researchers didn't carry out the experiment during the "approved" time range between March 1, 2004 and February 28, 2005, according to the academy.

"We can just ensure the moral and ethical standards and do our utmost to protect the rights of the test subjects since we aren't a supervision administration," Ni Ya, head of the academy, told Xinhua news agency.

Many approvals missing

The academy's statement also showed it never issued documents to import Golden Rice. Yet it is the first time for the Chinese side to admit knowing that GM food was involved in the test.

Ni said the institute's ethical board demanded that the human test subjects shall be fully notified and give their consent before the experiment can take place.

The academy's statements echoed the announcement of the Massachusetts-based Tufts University that trial that included GM rice was confirmed in both China and US. But at the same time, it was out of tune with a number of Chinese authorities.

The academy confirmed the test request in November 2003 following approvals from the US Food and Drug Administration and China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention despite the involvement of genetically modified Golden Rice, it said.

The study, planned for 2004 and 2005, was suspended until 2008.

Authorities in Hunan Province said the time and location of the test were not approved, according to Xinhua.

A senior official with the Hunan provincial health department maintained that any human experiment of GM food in Hunan should get the approval from the provincial health and agriculture authorities. But the US-China experiment did not, Xinhua said.

The trial picked 72 children between the ages of six and eight in rural areas in Hunan and they were fed with either genetically modified Golden Rice, spinach or carotene capsules over a 35-day period, Tufts University said.

The result showed Golden Rice, genetically engineered to be rich in carotene, is effective at providing vitamin A to children.

While Tang Guangwen, the research paper's lead author and professor with Tufts University, insisted that the testing had been approved, both the second and third author - Hu Yuming with the Hunan CDC and Yin Shi'an with the national CDC - denied involvement in the GM rice research project.

The two toed the line of Hunan authorities, which said China's CDC conducted tests on children in the province in 2008, but these tests were meant to study children's bodies' transformation of beta carotene in vegetables to vitamin A, and did not include GM food.

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