The authors of the study failed to provide documentation that all parents signed the consent form. Furthermore, it was previously discovered that representatives from the Chinese government overseeing the trial had not obtained the proper permissions to move forward with the study. Out of all this controversy, the Chinese government fired two employees and Tufts University barred Tang from conducting clinical research for two years.
This is not the first time that GMO feeding trials have been caught up in controversy. Earlier this year, we noted that Iowa State University failed to adequately inform student subjects about the potential risks associated with a feeding trial of a similar GMO crop, genetically engineered Vitamin A-enriched bananas. In the face of public controversy over this feeding study, an ISU ethical review board worked with the lead researcher to edit the “informed consent document” given to students involved in the study, but what resulted was a list of one-sided, pro-GMO talking points, not an impartial description of potential risks. The banana feeding study has been postponed for now, but the ISU community is still calling on the university to answer a list of unanswered questions regarding the claims made about the technology before moving forward with the trial.
But the larger issue here is that these vitamin-A enriched foods are not the appropriate answer to vitamin deficiency in Asia and Africa. There are still questions regarding the ability of golden rice to yield as much as non-enriched rice and whether the target population for the banana—Ugandans—will even be interested in growing and eating it. Additionally, there remains great doubt that incorporating these crops can actually deliver sufficient Vitamin A to consumers. There are many far simpler and far less controversial methods of delivering Vitamin A to undernourished populations than GMOs, like the use of vitamins or a more diverse diet.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has helped fund golden rice and the banana, seems to have its own ideas about what is best for nutrient-deficient individuals. The failure to bring golden rice to market after over ten years of field trials demonstrates that those millions of dollars could have been better spent developing conventionally bred fortified crops and helping Africans grow more yellow and orange fruits and vegetables and leafy greens to combat Vitamin A deficiency.
In the midst of so much controversy, and so many unanswered scientific questions about GMOs in our food system, we need mandatory labels on GMO foods, so that consumers can make their own decisions at the grocery store based on facts about how the food that they buy is produced. But because sharing this kind of information with consumers scares big food companies, Congress is now considering taking away the rights of states to pass mandatory GMO labeling bills with the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act (DARK Act).