GM Rice Scandal?

Researchers studying the effects of genetically modified golden rice on schoolchildren in China are accused of unethical behavior.

Sep 12, 2012
Elise Andrew

A 4-year study on the genetically modified crop golden rice, engineered to contain ß-carotene not naturally present in rice, is causing a huge controversy in China. Initially the 2008 study attracted little attention; but since Greenpeace China described it as "scandal of international proportions" in a statement released late last month (August 29), media outlets have relentlessly attacked the authors of the paper, claiming that they used the children as “human guinea pigs” and compare their actions to the Japanese bio-warfare experiments on Chinese prisoners in World War II.

In the study, the researchers gave 72 children either golden rice, spinach (a food naturally high in ß-carotene), or capsules enriched with ß-carotene in oil. They reported that ß-carotene in golden rice converts into vitamin A as efficiently as capsules, and better than in spinach—a positive result for the industry, and one that may aid in the fight against vitamin deficiency blindness, which causes around a quarter of a million children to lose their sight every year.

The lead authors, both from Tufts University in Boston, and defenders of the trial have countered the claims, stating that all legal and ethical permissions were granted, and all guidelines were complied with. Adrian Dubock, manager of the Golden Rice Project in Switzerland, described Greenpeace's actions as “callous and cynical” when speaking to ScienceInsider this week, and claimed that he has been informed that Chinese scientists involved with the research have been intimidated by home visits from police. Several Chinese co-authors have attempted to distance themselves from the paper since the furor erupted, and some have denied all knowledge of the study.