Scientist tries to sue journal for planning to retract discredited Golden Rice study that experimented on unsuspecting children

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(NaturalNews) A journalist has filed a lawsuit against her own university and against the American Society for Nutrition, claiming that their allegations of research misconduct against her could harm her career.

The researcher, Guangwen Tang, has worked at Tufts University for more than 25 years. In 2012, she became a senior research scientist at Tufts' Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

In 2003, Tang received a grant for more than $1 million from the National Institute of Health to study genetically modified (GM) "golden rice," which has been engineered to produce unnaturally high levels of beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor. Tang's research focused on investigating how efficiently the body converts the beta-carotene from the rice into usable vitamin A.

In 2008, Tang performed a study at an elementary school in Hengnan county, Hunan province, China. As part of the study, 25 schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 8 were fed 60 grams of golden rice. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2012. The study gained widespread scientific attention, and has been downloaded more than 32,000 times.

Following the paper's publication, Greenpeace publicized the details of the 2008 clinical trial. This led to an investigation by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that parents had not properly informed the children's parents of the study's details, including that their children were going to be eating a GM food product whose safety had never been proven. An email was uncovered by a Chinese official saying that he was going to remove mention of genetic modification from documents shown to parents, because the information was "too sensitive."

Several Chinese officials were later reprimanded for certifying the research as ethical, as well as for specific ethical breaches.

Tufts University issued an apology to the parents whose children had been involved, acknowledging that the study had not met the university's ethical guidelines or federal U.S. regulations on human research. Pending further investigation, the university suspended Tang's authorization to practice research on human subjects for two years, and informed her that she will be required to undergo training on human research protocols.

The American Society for Nutrition, which publishes the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, informed Tang that due to the ethical concerns, her article will be retracted.

Scientist seeks monetary award

Tang's reaction to these measures was to sue both Tufts and the American Society for Nutrition in Middlesex County court, alleging that the measures against her constitute defamation of character and will damage her professional reputation and therefore her career. She says that Tufts University's institutional review board approved the research protocols that she submitted to them ahead of the 2008 trial.

It is unclear if the protocols approved by Tufts were the ones actually followed in the field.

Tang is asking the court to award her monetary damages for not just defamation, but also breach of contract and interference with business relations.

When all is said and done, Tang may not be the only person to file a lawsuit as a result of her research. Although Chinese authorities issued a payment of 80,000 yuan (US$13,000) to each of the parents whose children were illegally experimented on, the families are still demanding proof that their children will not suffer long-term health effects from the GM rice.

No such proof has been forthcoming.

"An apology is not the key issue," said one parent, who declined to be named. "If my child shows abnormalities in the future, I will surely sue [the university]."

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