by Xinhua writer Ren Haijun
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) -- Tufts University is aware of the announcement made by Chinese public health authorities on a genetically modified (GM) rice research, and finds it inappropriate to make further comments at this time when its reviewing on the project is still ongoing, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
"While we respect China's review process which led to the statement, it would be premature for Tufts University to reach any conclusions before investigations currently under way in the United States are completed," Andrea Grossman, assistant director of public relations at the Massachusetts-based institution, told Xinhua in an email.
Grossman said that Tufts 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 by Guangwen Tang, director of the Carotenoids and Health Laboratory of Tufts University.
As part of that review, the university convened a five-member panel composed of distinguished academics from leading universities in the United States.
The panel is charged with determining whether the study was in compliance with Chinese, U.S. and Tufts requirements for scientific research.
It was also asked to examine Tufts' institutional policies and practices to determine if they are appropriate to ensure full compliance with the laws and regulations of other countries in which Tufts is engaged in research.
According to Grossman, the panel's investigation is proceeding as expeditiously as possible in its effort to conduct a comprehensive and objective review. When the panel finishes its work, the university will review its conclusions and determine what further steps, if any, may be appropriate.
"We have also been cooperating with Chinese investigators engaged in their own review and we welcomed them to Tufts in October," said Grossman. "We will continue to cooperate with China's authorities on this matter."
The spokeswoman's response came the same day when three Chinese officials who had approved and conducted the joint China-U.S. test of GM rice on school children in central China's Hunan Province were sacked.
The officials were punished for "violating relevant regulations,scientific ethics and academic integrity," according to a statement jointly released Thursday by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences (ZAMS), and Hunan provincial CDC.
The officials punished include Yin Shi'an from China CDC, Wang Yin from ZAMS and Hu Yuming from Hunan provincial CDC.
Environmental group Greenpeace first disclosed the test in late August, saying researchers fed "golden rice," which is genetically-modified to be rich in beta carotene, to 25 children aged between six and eight in Hunan.
The Ministry of Health later ordered China CDC to investigate whether dozens of children in Hunan were used as GM food test subjects.
Greenpeace discovered the test from a paper published in the August edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which claimed that "golden rice" is effective in providing Vitamin A to children.
Approved by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in December 2002 and led by Guangwen Tang, the research was intended to explore ways in preventing deficiency of Vitamin A among children.
Tang conducted the research in cooperation with Yin and Wang.h China CDC discovered that the test was conducted in 2008 in Hengnan County of Hunan Province, with 25 pupils each being fed 60 grams of golden rice on June 2.
According to the statement, Tang cooked the "golden rice" in the United States and brought the cooked rice to China on May 29, 2008, without due declaration to relevant Chinese authorities. Four days later, Tang and other research participants recooked the GM rice and mixed it with ordinary rice and served it for the children's lunch.
Prior to the test, the research team held a meeting to brief the children's parents or guardians, but did not tell them that the test would be using GM food.
According to Tufts, the ethic review of each research has to be renewed annually. However, Tang started the test in Hunan before the yearly renewal was completed.
Grossman did not answer a Xinhua question about whether or not Tufts University or Tang should apologize to the 25 Chinese pupils.
GM food is controversial, as there is still no consensus on whether or not it is harmful to the human body. According to the Greenpeace website, it is simply not known whether genetically engineered crops are safe for human or animal consumption. Independent scientific studies on the matter are severely lacking, it said.
The Chinese government introduced a regulation as early as in 2001 to ensure the safety of GM food, with strict provisions for researching, testing, producing and marketing such products.
According to the regulation, parties conducting GM agricultural experiments should have certain qualifications and form a panel to oversee the safety of the experiments.
It also provides that any China-foreign GM agricultural experiment should be approved by the government's agricultural authorities.