A recently published study involving transgenic rice has reportedly drawn criticism from Greenpeace China, which has accused U.S. researchers of using Chinese children “as guinea pigs in [a] genetically engineered ‘Golden Rice’ trial.” According to media sources, the advocacy group has cited a joint Chinese-U.S. study appearing in the August 2012 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as evidence that scientists sidestepped authorities by allegedly feeding vitamin-enriched Golden Rice to 24 children without the required approvals. “It was actually back in 2008 that we first heard of this experiment and immediately informed the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture,” opined a August 31, 2012, Greenpeace China blog post that has since sparked a government investigation into the trial. “The Ministry came back and assured us no Golden Rice had been imported and the trial had been stopped—something that unfortunately appears not to be the case.”
The study in question apparently examined whether a new version of Golden Rice could help boost vitamin A levels in children who consumed one small bowl of the enriched staple per day. In light of the Greenpeace allegations, however, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has publicly maintained that it did not approve the trial and has already suspended one scientist connected with the study. Tufts University has also purportedly agreed to investigate the case to “ensure that the strictest standards were adhered to,” although a university statement reiterated that it continues to respect “the laws, regulations, and cultures of all countries in which our researchers work or collaborate.”
Meanwhile, the flap has instigated a media debate about the use of transgenic crops to address malnutrition and other diseases worldwide. “The last thing Greenpeace wants is for Golden Rice to be effective,” writes columnist Margaret Wente for The Globe and Mail. “Greenpeace is campaigning vigorously to block Golden Rice trials throughout Southeast Asia… GM opponents have been tragically successful in stalling the spread of modified crops to the people most in need of it. In China, where people are already terrified about food safety because of major scandals over tainted milk powder, GM crops are generally shunned.” See Science-AAAS, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Percolator Blog, The Wall Street Journal, and Xinhua, September 11, 2012; The Globe and Mail, September 13, 2012.