Beta-carotene enhanced GM rice, the “golden” child of biotech, is now hampered by a fudged study under ethics scrutiny.
A GMO study conducted in China, but funded by the USDA, tested unapproved “Golden Rice” on children without authorization, creating serious violations of ethics rules.
Tufts University researchers admitted that their lead scientist, Guangwen Tang, had broken the rules of disclosure in tests on human subjects, but maintain that their August 2012 study titled “β-Carotene in “Golden Rice” is as good as β-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children” remains valid.
Greenpeace China blew the whistle on what it called a scandal over a “potentially dangerous product.” Not properly informing the parents of the children used in the study constitutes a clear and serious ethics violations, the organization indicated.
The larger Greenpeace organization has played a long-term role in opposing the approval and use of “Golden Rice” to fight disease in the developing world. They and other opponents have long argued that “tried and true” methods of treating Vitamin A deficiency render the biotech “solution” irrelevant and unnecessary.
Nature.com highlighted an investigation conducted by CCTV in China, who aired a special documentary program on the ‘scandal.’ Emails turned up by reporters showed that a Chinese CDC official hid mention of the fact that the Golden Rice was genetically modified, claiming that it was dropped because it was ‘too sensitive’ to discuss with the parents of the children being fed GMOs in the study.
Many parents have since “demanded a guarantee that the rice will not affect their children’s health” as well as compensation money for the ethics breach. “If it’s safe, why did they need to deceive us into this?” a parent angrily asked China’s CCTV in their exposé.
There were further issued raised about how often the children in the study were actually fed the “Golden Rice,” with inquiries revealing that the children may have only eaten the rice ONCE during the study rather than daily over the course of three weeks.
Critics note that discrepancies remain over the full details of the trial. For instance, the CDC’s investigation revealed that the children ate Golden Rice just once during the study — and not lunch every day during the three-week study as the paper states.
“How much Golden Rice did the children have exactly?” asks Wang Zheng, a policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Policy and Management in Beijing. “Either the researchers are lying about this now or they lied about it in their paper. It’s a serious offence either way.” [emphasis added]
According to the published study, the GM trait in “Golden Rice” that produces beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, was produced using heavy water (a technique derived from Harold Urey’s development of enriched uranium during the Manhattan Project) “harvested from a hydroponic plant system housed in the USDA-Agriculture Research Service Children’s Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston TX.”
Along with Tang’s research conducted at the Hunan Province Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China was additional research provided by the Carotenoids & Health Laboratory, USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
Golden Rice has been a hot-button issue in genetically-modified politics for decades now. Proponents blame GM opponents for delaying its approval, and outlandishly claiming that they have cost lives, building upon the long-standing claims that “Golden Rice” could save a million lives per year, prevent blindness (and other related pro-GM puffery).
Slate accused anti-GMO activists of lying to get their way, reporting that groups behind the destruction of a trial GM rice field had falsely claimed farmers in the Philippines were behind the sabotage.
Biotech watchdogs like GM Watch, on the other hand, have long claimed that the benefits are less than shimmering, and that instead its real significance is in expanding the reach of GM agriculture – and companies like Syngenta who push it – in the developing world. Since 2001, activist Michael Pollan, Greenpeace and others have shown that the concentration of beta-carotene is not enough to make a ‘life saving’ or disease preventing difference – a problem worsened by the fact that cooking the rice reduces the Vitamin A content by 50%.
GM Watch explained how “Golden Rice” co-inventor Ingo Potrykus acknowledged back in 2001 that Greenpeace’s argument concerning the ineffective concentrations of beta-carotene in the rice amounted to a valid concern and notable flaw.
“I am happy to acknowledge, that Greenpeace is arguing on a rational basis… I also acknowledge, that Greenpeace has identified a weak point in the strategy of using Golden Rice for reducing vitamin A-deficiency… We will know for sure of course only, when all the standard biosafety assessments have been performed… we need far more data, than we have to date.” [emphasis added]
The current levels of beta-carotene produced by the heavy water “Golden Rice” would require children to eat between 100-150 grams of rice per day (or about 1/2-3/4 of a cup of cooked rice) in order to achieve 60% of the recommended daily allowance.
Even the Rockefeller Foundation, which long funded the development of “Golden Rice” – and, arguably, the entire “Gene Revolution” that brought genetically modified crops into mainstream use – conceded in a letter written by Gordon Conway in January 2001, that “we do not consider Golden Rice the solution to Vitamin A deficiency” and noting that “the public relations uses of Golden Rice have gone too far.”
“The industry’s advertisements and the media in general seem to forget that it is a research product that needs considerable further development before it will be available to farmers and consumers.”
Yet more than a decade after industry proponents tried to knock environmental watchdogs for their critique and delay of “Golden Rice,” researchers are caught fudging their data and failing to properly inform the parents of the children used in the study that the product was even genetically modified.
If the benefits for the world are so profound, why is there so much to hide?