golden riceIRRI Images / photo on flickrLast week, angry activists destroyed test fields of beta carotene–enriched golden rice in the Philippines. The rice, which was just weeks away from being harvested, was part of the required trials to get the rice approved for distribution in a country where approximately 1.7 million kids below the age of 5 are deficient in Vitamin A, and therefore more susceptible to infection and blindness.

(The strong of stomach can go here to see what happens to kids who don't get enough Vitamin A.)

The vandalized field was one of five involved in golden rice trials in the Philippines aiming to show that "the plants are suitable for cultivation and would give farmers a good crop, and to assess any environmental impact they might have," says Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute. The grain harvested from the plants is also needed for studies assessing whether the beta carotene in the rice is absorbed and converted into vitamin A in vitamin A-deficient people. Golden rice could be deemed safe and approved by the Philippine government as early as the end of this year, Zeigler says—but the efficacy trials could take another 18 months. That's the timeline if the remaining field sites are unmolested, Zeigler says.

Here's the video of local news coverage of the incident:

 

A Change.org petition condemning the act has picked up more than 2.500 signatures from the "global scientific community" in the last few days. The petition reads, in part: 

New technologies often evoke fears that they are dangerous. Destroying a new technology based on such fears without testing its safety and efficacy can deprive humanity of a very valuable and much-needed advance. In this case, many more millions will needlessly suffer blindness and death because Golden Rice was not available to them. No group, regardless of its intentions, has the right to condemn a technology without evidence. It is an unconscionable criminal act to destroy a field trial conducted in accordance to international safety norms.

Amen.