PARENTS in a rural Chinese town have expressed their fears over potential risks linked to genetically modified food as an investigation continues into whether the town's children were used as guinea pigs for a US-China research program in 2008.
Dozens of children in Jiangkou, in central China's Hunan Province, are said to have been fed "golden rice" as part of a nutrition research program led by a professor from Tufts University in the United States.
Claims that GM food poses health risks are worrying parents of children at Jiangkou Central Primary School, where the experiments were said to have taken place.
"Rumors are everywhere. Some say the kids may suffer from lung disease or lose reproductive capabilities when they grow up," said a parent surnamed Liu whose 11-year-old was one of the children said to have taken part in the program.
"I only learned the news a few days ago. I am very worried because it seems that no one can clearly explain what happened," Liu said.
Many parents have been frustrated by the slow progress of an official investigation launched in late August, as full results have yet to be announced. Some have tried to learn more about GM food by searching for information on the Internet.
On Tuesday, Ministry of Health spokesman Deng Haihua urged the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to further investigate and publish results in a timely manner.
The previous day, the center suspended a fellow researcher allegedly involved in the case for his "inconsistent accounts during the investigation."
Government departments and research institutes have denied granting approval for the study which was looking into effective ways of providing vitamin A to children.
GM food remains controversial nearly two decades after it was introduced to the commercial market. There is still no consensus on whether or not it is harmful.
Greenpeace, which told parents about the study, says on its website that it is not known whether genetically engineered crops are safe for human or animal consumption. Independent scientific studies are severely lacking, it said.
"Until now, no government departments or institutes have publicly spoken about the health risks or lack thereof regarding GM rice. As parents, how can we rest assured?" said a parent surnamed He.
A government report issued by the National Development and Reform Commission last year said China needed to enhance the management of GM food safety.
"Although there is no sufficient evidence to show that it is dangerous, GM food is surrounded by uncertainties regarding its safety. More tests need to be done," the report said.
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