Greenpeace alarmed at US-backed GMO experiments on children

Press release - September 5, 2012
Greenpeace has expressed alarm at a recent scientific publication that suggests researchers, backed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), fed experimental genetically-engineered (GE) ‘golden rice’ to 24 children in China aged between six and eight years old.

“It is incredibly disturbing to think that an American research body, in a serious breach of scientific and medical ethics, used children as guinea pigs for genetically engineered food, despite a clear directive against this very experiment issued by Chinese authorities in 2008,” said Fang Lifeng, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

“Greenpeace hopes the Chinese government will uphold its previous decision to stop such experiments. We are calling for a thorough investigation into this case and that adequate support be provided to the affected children and their parents.”

Greenpeace East Asia first heard of this experiment in 2008 and immediately informed the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry confirmed with Greenpeace that no ‘golden rice’ had been imported and ostensibly, the trial had been stopped. However these new findings reveal that this directive had not been upheld.

Greenpeace believes that ‘golden rice’ is an irresponsible and dangerous way to address Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). ‘Golden rice’ does not address the underlying causes of VAD, which are mainly poverty and lack of access to a more diverse diet. Because it encourages a diet based on one staple rather than an increase in access to the many vitamin-rich vegetables, ‘golden rice’ could, if introduced on a large scale, exacerbate malnutrition and ultimately undermine food security.

While VAD remains a problem in some parts of Asia, some countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines and Pakistan, have made considerable progress in combating VAD in recent years: through Vitamin A supplementation, food fortification and dietary diversification. While more work needs to be done to eradicate the problem, Greenpeace believes that these existing and successful solutions—particularly dietary diversification which directly addresses malnutrition—are the ones that must be supported, rather than channeling millions of funds into ‘golden rice’ development.

The problem of ‘golden rice’ is a concern in the Philippines, which is earmarked to be one of the countries where this GMO will be first launched. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in Los Banos, Laguna and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) based in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, are the main proponents of this project. Open field trials of GR are now currently ongoing in Nueva Ecija, Ilocos Norte and Camarines Sur, exposing conventional rice crops—the country’s staple food—to GMO contamination.

“The next ‘golden rice’ guinea pigs might be Filipino children,” said Daniel Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Should we allow ourselves to be subjects in a human experiment? There are already safe and proven solutions to vitamin A deficiency which do not rely on the genetic modification of food. Filipinos should oppose approval of any GMO rice.”

“Golden rice’ is still a myth, and worse, it carries with it all the environmental and health risks associated with GMO crops. Spending even more time and money on ‘golden rice’ development is not only environmentally irresponsible, but also a disservice to humanity,” he added.

Greenpeace is demanding that IRRI and the Department of Agriculture stop field trials of ‘golden’ and other GE rice varieties. Organizations that are funding the development of ‘golden’ rice should shift their resources to boost current efforts that are tackling VAD, particularly dietary diversification and empowering people afflicted by the deficiency.


For more information:

  • Daniel Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, , +63 9178110469
  • Virginia Benosa-Llorin, Media Campaigner, , +63 9182936786 

Notes for editors:

  1. Tang et al. 2012, “Beta-carotene in Golden Rice is as good as beta-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children”American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96: 658–64.
  2. The authors are affiliated with the American Research Service (ARS), which is the in-house research arm of USDA. The Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) (where 3 of the principal researchers are affiliated) is one of the sixcenters in the US supported by ARS. HNRCA has a cooperative agreement with Tufts University, as the research center islocated within Tufts University.
  3. 68 children were randomly assigned to consume GR. The results of the study indicate that 23 childen in the GR groupwere used: 12 boys and 11 girls. See also the Greenpeace report “Golden Rice: Lack of Lustre”