The Chinese CDC is investigating a recently published study comparing the consumption of spinach, a beta-carotene supplement, and Golden Rice, which has been genetically engineered to contain beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A).
The investigation is in response to a blog published by Greenpeace on the last day of August. According to the posting, Greenpeace requested the Chinese Ministry of Health not proceed with the trial in 2008, and was assured by the Ministry that, "no Golden Rice had been imported and the trial had been stopped." Based on this, Greenpeace asserts the trial was not approved.
Golden Rice, initially engineered by Swiss researchers in 1999, is being developed and promoted by the non-profit International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to combat the vitamin D deficiency in the third world. The IRRI is working in conjunction with several humanitarian organizations, including the Bangladesh and Philippine Rice Institutes, Helen Keller Association, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and US Agency of International Development. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in the third world, mainly among young children and pregnant women.
The study, published in August issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved sixty-eight 6-8 year-old children either having 30g of spinach, a beta-carotene tablet, or 60g of Golden Rice included daily in a 3-week controlled diet. The beta-carotene portions were calibrated to produce about a 1/3 of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. The results showed that the children that received the Golden Rice with their dinner produced about the same amount of vitamin A as those that received the supplement. Lower levels of vitamin A were produced from the beta-carotene in the spinach.
The Methods section of the published article also states that, "The study recruitment processes and protocol were approved by the Institutional Review Board-Tufts Medical Center in the United States and by the Ethics Review Committee of Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences in China." Also that, "Both parents and pupils consented to participate in the study." It seems like this might be a good time for the authors to dig that paperwork out of the files.