Monday, April 11, 2016

Corn growers told to keep vigilant for suspected seed thieves from China, other countries

Iowa corn growers are keeping a weary eye out for a Chinese attack. It's not a joke. Growers are being vigilant ever since seven Chinese nationals "were accused by U.S. authorities in 2013 of digging up seeds from Iowa farms and planning to send them back to China," Julia Edwards reports for Reuters. One of the nationals pleaded guilty in January to the crimes, which "has laid bare the value—and vulnerability—of advanced food technology in a world with 7 billion mouths to feed, 1.36 billion of them Chinese."

"The number of international economic espionage cases referred to the FBI is rising, up 15 percent each year between 2009 and 2014 and up 53 percent in 2015," Edwards writes. The FBI said most of the cases involve Chinese nationals. "In the agriculture sector, organic insecticide, irrigation equipment and rice, along with corn, are all suspected to have been targeted, including by Chinese nationals."

In response to threats "U.S. law enforcement officials are urging agriculture executives and security officers to increase their vigilance and report any suspicious activity," Edwards writes. "But on a March 30 visit to Iowa, Justice Department officials could offer little advice to ensure against similar thefts, underlining how agricultural technology lying in open fields can be more vulnerable than a computer network or a factory floor." The agricultural sector is basically being told to build fences and have guards, which many say are impractical solutions, "due to the high cost and impracticality of guarding hundreds of thousands of acres." Monsanto—one of the firms whose seeds were targeted—said it safeguards its genetically modified organism (GMO) technology by protecting its computers, patenting seeds and keeping fields unmarked." (Read more)

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