Labor Day Weekend is always good time for reading books, and recent events on the other side of the world caused me to remember one of my favorite Tom Clancy novels. I always say that somewhere in our future is the plot to an old Clancy novel. When the job used to require much more flying around the country than it does today, I never left for the airport without a new Clancy novel stuck in my carry-on. “Rainbow Six,” which was also a very popular video game back in the day, has Jack Ryan serving as President of the United States, relying on John Clark and son-in-law Ding to take down eco-terrorists who plan nothing short of worldwide genocide. A smaller version of that plot, some would say much smaller, played out recently in the Philippines when scientific trials of “Golden Rice” were destroyed by eco-terrorists of a different stripe – those who oppose genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There was no corporate involvement in this one, just the government’s Philippine Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute and other public-sector partners working for humanity. The golden GMO in Golden Rice is Vitamin A, which is intended to help overcome malnutrition in the Third World, all stamped out in the name of food safety, of course. Mark Lynas, the former anti-GMO activist, wrote in Slate after his Cornell University fact-finding trip to the Philippines delivered the truth on the foul incident. He wrote:

Did you hear that a group of 400 angry farmers attacked and destroyed a field trial of genetically modified rice in the Philippines this month? That, it turns out, was a lie. The crop was actually destroyed by a small number of activists while farmers who had been bussed in to attend the event looked on in dismay.
The nature of the attack was widely misreported, from the New York Times to New Scientist to BBC News, based on false claims by the activists. But then anti-GMO activists often lie. In support of the vandals, Greenpeace has claimed that there are health concerns about the genetically modified rice. In fact there is no evidence of risk, and the destruction of this field trial could lead to needless deaths.
The rice is genetically enhanced to produce the Vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, giving it a golden color. This vital nutrient is missing from the diets of millions of rice-dependent people in poor countries, where Vitamin A deficiency leads to preventable blindness and death on a massive scale.

Thankfully, the world of science and academia is rising up in the support of biotechnology on this one. Months of government-funded research and important data collection was compromised by this event.

Vitamin A deficiencies are not a big concern in the First World where eco-terrorists come from, usually before they move on to graduate school. But, in the real world, about 2 million deaths and a half-million cases of irreversible blindness are attributable to lack of Vitamin A. Most who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency are women and children, but who cares if you are feeling righteous about being you, right? “As a toxicologist with 30 years of experience in food, cosmetics, pesticides and pharmaceuticals, I know the claims about risks of GM food are disingenuous and reflect a political rather than moral position,” writes Dr. Andrew Bartholomaeus, University of Canberra toxicology expert. “The lives of millions are at risk from the mindless actions of ill-informed anti-biotech activists.” “Golden Rice is a breakthrough in bioforication of natural plant products,” Australian National University biology lecturer Christopher Cazzonelli added. “I am a leading plant scientist and work on the regulation of carotenoid biosynthesis in plants. So please stop the destruction of field trials and help save lives.” Dr. Channapatna Prakash of Alabama’s Tuskegee University has launched an online petition urging Filipino politicians and policy-makers to continue the vital research. They’ve gone over their goal of 5,000 signatures since the Aug. 8 attack, but the more support they get will help persuade Filipino decision-makers to continue the important work to field Golden Rice. And its much better for our fuzzy-headed friends in the anti-GMO crowd to go down in a petition drive than to have the factionary Clark and Ding come after them. Just remember, we do save the world in the end.