AN American university confirmed yesterday that it had used Chinese children as guinea pigs in a trial of a new type of genetically modified rice.
The announcement, by Tufts University in Massachusetts, followed a denial by authorities in China’s central province of Hunan that such a study had taken place.
However, university spokeswoman Andrea Grossman told The China Press, a US-based newspaper, that it conducted the study in rural areas in Hunan with the aim of finding a solution to a serious health problem affecting developing countries.
Grossman 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.
The study showed that the “Golden Rice” was as effective as capsules and even better than carotene-rich spinach as a source of vitamin A, Grossman said.
She added that the university adhered to the highest moral and ethical standards while conducting any experiments involving human participants. The trial, which aimed to prove that the rice was an effective source of vitamin A, was approved by authorities in both China and the United States and agreed to by all the children taking part in the trial and their parents, Grossman said.
More than 200 million children around the world suffer from insufficient intake of vitamin A, and 250,000 of them go blind every year as a result, with half of those children dying, Grossman said, citing World Health Organization figures.
The study was partly sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health, she said, and the results were published in the August edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
On Saturday, government officials in Hunan denied claims that children were used as guinea pigs in the US study.
They were responding to a Greenpeace article which said the environmental protection group had discovered a study backed by the US Department of Agriculture involving feeding GM rice to children.
A spokesman for Hengyang City, where Greenpeace said the study was conducted, said initial findings indicated there had been no such research project. He said that there was a study on the transformation of carotene in vegetables to vitamin A in children’s bodies, but denied it was the same one.
“The food given to the children did not involve GM rice or other GM food,” the spokesman said. “Parents were notified of the experiment in advance.”
The government spokesman also said the study had not involved any American institute.
Hu Min, http://www.shanghaidaily.com