Editor’s Notebook: FBI Busts Chinese Seed Heists

January 3, 2014 06:21 PM

A cascade of arrests in mid-December by the FBI shined a light on a labyrinth of activity by Chinese nationals conspiring to steal trade secrets for China-based seed companies. The first arrests were in a corn-related case in Iowa, while the Kansas case involves rice.

The news of the heist of an inbred or parent line of corn came, ironically, just as the Chinese were rejecting cargo loads of corn with the MIR 162 trait, a genetically modified strain not yet approved for import by the Chinese government.

Officials might not let the corn in through the ports, but that didn’t keep a ring of Chinese vigilantes from going to great lengths to steal biotech seed from Midwest farmers’ fields and trying to sneak it home for future breeding.

Six Chinese nationals were indicted for allegedly conspiring to steal inbred corn from DuPont Pioneer, LG Seeds and Monsanto Company. The estimated loss on an inbred line: five to eight years of research and $30 to $40 million minimum!

The affidavits read like a spy novel. In June 2011, FBI agents assigned to the Des Moines, Iowa, office conducted a routine visit to Pioneer Hi-Bred. During the visit, Pioneer security officials alerted the FBI to suspicious activity at a farmer’s field in Tama, Iowa. That tip led to an extensive investigation that tracked the suspects as they crisscrossed the U.S., not only sneaking into key seed fields, but also taking part in tours of the companies they were stealing from and meeting with former Pioneer employees.

This will be one of the most important—and intriguing—stories for agriculture in 2014. Stay tuned as our multimedia team covers it on television, on radio, online and here in Farm Journal.

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