By Li Qian | 2012-9-1 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
A US-BACKED study which used Chinese children as guinea pigs to try out a new type of genetically modified rice has been condemned by an environmental rights group.
The study was carried out in healthy schoolchildren between six and eight years old in Hengyang City in central China's Hunan Province.
Twenty-four of them were fed a daily 60 grams of genetically modified "Golden Rice," which was said to be rich in vitamin A, for three weeks.
Results showed that eating the rice was as effective as taking vitamin A pills, according to findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Condemning the research as exposing the children to health risks, Greenpeace East Asia said on its website yesterday that the trial contravened a Chinese Ministry of Agriculture decision in 2008 to abort plans for the project and was a breach of scientific and medical ethics.
The organization has called on the Chinese government to uphold its decision, launch an investigation into the program and offer adequate medical and legal aid to the children.
Fang Lifeng, a campaigner for sustainable agriculture at Greenpeace East Asia, said it was "incredibly disturbing" to think that an American institution had used Chinese children as the subjects of its experiment.
"Chinese agriculture authorities stopped the trial four years ago. How did the research come to be revived after that emphatic ban?" he said.
According to the report, the study was approved by the ethics review committee of the Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences.
Both parents and pupils had consented to take part in the study and the children displayed no side effects, it added.
But Fang said: "Did the children's parents fully understand the potential risks that this trial was exposing their children to?"
A UK Royal Society report showed that infants and children were more likely to fall victims to food allergies and thus might suffer greater health hazards than adults if GM foods contained unknown allergens, Greenpeace said in its online statement.
US authorities funded the "Golden Rice" program which was led by a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts. The grains were harvested from a hydroponic plant system housed at the US Department of Agriculture and are thought to be the "golden bullet" for vitamin A deficiency, especially in developing countries.
But Greenpeace said the study was unnecessary and overrated. Great progress had been made in many countries to treat marginal vitamin A groups, such as supporting measures for more diverse diets, its statement said.
Rice has been a must in most of Chinese people's diets for thousands of years.
For the past seven years, Greenpeace has documented GM rice throughout China.