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UPDATED: October 5, 2013 NO. 51 DECEMBER 20, 2012
'Golden Rice' Turns Bitter
Unauthorized testing to feed GM rice to school children violates academic ethics and integrity
By Wang Hairong

Further investigation by the Chinese CDC revealed that the Chinese scholars lied about their roles in the project.

Yin was found to be one of the applicants for the project sponsored by the NIH. According to a memorandum of agreement on cooperative research signed by the Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences and Tufts University, Yin and Wang were responsible for managing the NIH-funded project in China.

The investigation showed that the researchers breached relevant laws and regulations on a number of occasions.

Tang brought the rice from the United States into China on May 29, 2008, but she did not file an application to import GM food for research and experimentation, as required by the Measures for the Administration of the Safe Import of Agricultural Transgenic Living Things issued by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2002.

Prior to the experiment, the research team held a meeting to brief the children's guardians on the test, but did not tell them that the test would involve GM food. The children's guardians were asked to sign an informed consent form, but only the last page of the form was handed out to them, which did not mention "golden rice" or genetic modification.

Half-cooked ethics

The investigation also revealed that the researchers did not follow proper ethical review procedures.

According to Tufts University, the ethical review of research has to be renewed annually; however, Tang started the test in China before completing renewal.

In China, the Ethical Review Committee of the Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences approved the NIH-funded project in 2003. After the test site was shifted to Hunan, according to government regulations, the research should go through another ethical review. Yet, rather than applying for another ethical review, Wang stamped a document to approve the research as ethical in the name of her organization without its authorization.

After the experiment, the Chinese CDC learned that a U.S. university was conducting a "golden rice" test in China and investigated in July 2008. Nonetheless, the researchers dishonestly claimed that the test had not yet begun.

The three researchers were punished for rule violations. Yin was removed from his post as the director of the Maternity and Child Nutrition Office of the Chinese CDC's National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety.

The institute also prohibited Yin from engaging in scientific research for three years, and revoked his title as a doctoral mentor.

The Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences dismissed Wang from its Academic Board and Ethical Review Committee and removed her from administrative and academic positions. Wang was also disqualified for promotion.

Hu was also removed from office for failure in supervision and dereliction of duty and received a warning from the Party committee of the Hunan Provincial CDC.

Andrea Grossman, Assistant Director of public relations at Tufts University, told Xinhua News Agency in an e-mail the university immediately initiated a full review in August to determine if proper study procedures were followed after being aware of questions surrounding a GM rice study conducted in China in 2008.

As part of that review, Tufts convened a five-member panel composed of distinguished academics from leading universities in the United States.

According to Grossman, when the panel finishes its work, the university will review its conclusions and determine what further steps, if any, may be appropriate.

After the investigation's results were made public, parents recently made aware their children had been fed GM rice became nervous.

A father surnamed He told Xinhua his child learned of rumors circulating on the Internet saying that those who ate "golden rice" would become impotent.

Authorities in Hengnan have promised to take full responsibility if children involved suffer health problems as a result of the "golden rice" test. On December 7, families of the 25 children who were fed "golden rice" in the test each received 80,000 yuan ($12,800) from local authorities.

Xu Haibin, a researcher with the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, said that the "golden rice" only differs from non-GM rice in that it has a higher amount of beta carotene, and so far there is no proof that "golden rice" is harmful to people's health.

But Xiao Mingxu, chief of Jiangkou Town where the test was conducted, said, "Although "golden rice" may not be hazardous, dishonest research is."

Email us at: wanghairong@bjreview.com

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