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Scientists decry rice experiment on children

By Zhang Yuwei and Yu Wei in New York and Shan Juan in Beijing  (China Daily)

08:20, September 06, 2012

US scientists have denounced a 2008 nutrition research project that allegedly fed genetically modified rice to a group of Chinese primary school students.

The study involving 68 Chinese children aged 6 to 8 has generated public anxiety about potential harm to the children and controversy over ethics and rules.

The study's lead author Tang Guangwen of Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, published a report on Aug 1 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing that 100 to 150 grams of so-called golden rice could provide 60 percent of the daily intake of vitamin A.

However, the three listed authors from the university's Chinese partners, Hu Yuming, Yin Shi'an and Wang Yin, all denied the use of golden rice in the study in Hengyang, Hunan province.

Dave R. Schubert, professor and laboratory head of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, said the test was done among Chinese children "most likely because they could not pass the review process required for doing this type of clinical trial in the US".

Schubert was among the 22 scientists from all over the world who wrote an open letter to caution Tufts' research on golden rice in 2009. He said this kind of experiment "should not have been done unless there was extensive safety testing of the rice".

According to a report commissioned by nonprofit organization Foodwatch in Germany, a sample of the golden rice grains was sent to Germany in 2001 for a feeding trial with mice. But when the grains were tested for carotenoid content, the scientists were "surprised to find it contained less than 1 percent of the amount expected". After the rice was cooked, this was reduced another 50 percent, so the trial was abandoned.

Schubert also said there was clearly "potential for harm in the children" when feeding them the rice. "Since there has been no animal or human safety testing of the golden rice, I believe that it was exceptionally foolish to feed this golden rice to children."

"Their brains are still developing and it is well known that molecules related to those made by golden rice can be harmful," Schubert said.

"There should have been some good safety testing before doing the experiment, but as far as I know, there was not," he added.

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