A research trial of genetically modified trees destroyed by vandals in Rotorua could have informed the public debate on GM technologies, the Royal society of New Zealand says.
Police are investigating the attack over Easter weekend when 375 radiata pines at Scion's forestry research institute were either cut or pulled out.
The vandals cut through fencing and tunnelled under another to reach the plants, causing about $400,000 of damage.
Royal Society of New Zealand, which promotes science, president Dr Garth Carnaby says the destruction means evidence that would have informed the public debate about GM technologies has been lost.
"Such vandalism is an expensive squandering of New Zealand's limited research funding."
Scion chief executive Dr Warren Parker estimated the vandals had caused about $400,000 of damage and put back research by a year.
"The field trial was approved under one of the strictest regulatory regimes in the world, and our team has fully complied with the containment controls. Despite this, our research opponents were determined to stop us and used criminal means to do so."
The trials were looking at resistance to herbicides and reproductive development.
Massey University Molecular Genetics Professor Barry Scott said vandalism of this kind was "senseless" and destroyed years of work done by researchers.
"What is particularly abhorrent about this act is the thinking by those involved that their rights and actions should take precedent over the rights of other individuals."
GE-Free New Zealand president Claire Bleakley says she doesn't know who was behind the attack and doubts it was anyone linked to her organisation.
Police believe the trees were destroyed sometime between Monday and Tuesday morning and want to hear from anyone with information.