Last week, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Chinese CDC) completed its ethics investigation of a study in which twenty-four 6-8 year old children were fed rice that was genetically-modified (GM) to produce beta-carotene (i.e., Golden Rice) to evaluate its effectiveness as a supplement to combat vitamin A deficiency.
The Chinese CDC, in conjunction with Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences (ZAMS) and the Hunan Provincial CDC, found that the GM rice study, which was conducted 4 years ago but just published this past August, was not conducted in accordance with regulatory and ethical guidelines. As a result, three officials involved in approving and conducting the research have been fired.
Hu Yuming, an official at the Hunan Province CDC office, was removed for failing to ensure that proper approvals were obtained for the study. Yin Shi'an Director of the Prenatal and Childhood Nutrition at from the Chinese CDC National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety, and Wang Yin, a section chief of ZAMS were both let go for failing to inform the test subjects' parents and relevant local authorities that the rice was genetically-modified.
Wang Yin was also cited for improper approval of the research procedure on behalf of ZAMS. Previously, an official from ZAMS stated to the China Daily that the research was initially approved in 2003 but "the experiment did not take place during the 'approved' time range between March 1, 2004 and Feb 28, 2005." Also, that the consent of fully notified test subjects was required before proceeding with the work.
The Chinese CDC also accused lead author of the study, Tang Guangwen, a scientist at Tufts University in Massachusetts, of violating Chinese regulatory guidelines and importing the rice into China without proper approvals. Tufts University has initiated its own investigation in light of the findings and, according to Reuters, was not ready to comment further.
In addition to the firings, the local government will provide 80,000 yuan ($12,800) compensation to each of the families whose children consumed the GM rice.
One final point that deserves emphasis is that there is absolutely no evidence that the consumption of GM rice was in any way harmful to the children, and there was no reason to think it would be.
Further information on the fallout from this study can be found at Science. You can also find information about Golden Rice on the Golden Rice Project website, and information about the relationship between blindness and vitamin A deficiencies from the World Health Organization.