Home Politics House committee probing Chinese tech theft from Iowa farmers

House committee probing Chinese tech theft from Iowa farmers


House lawmakers are digging into the theft of critical technology from Iowa farmers as part of a growing examination of American research stolen by China.

House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party lawmakers visited Iowa on Thursday to learn about China’s agricultural-tech espionage efforts.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican and the committee’s chairman, said America must prioritize protecting technology residing in Iowa’s cornfields as much as it does Silicon Valley’s research labs.

“The U.S. technological ecosystem is a bucket that currently has massive holes in the bottom and we continue to pour billions and billions of R&D dollars into it every year,” Mr. Gallagher said.

“We need to plug these holes, we could do it with export controls, research security, outbound capital restriction, but for whatever reason we’ve chosen not to,” he said.

Mr. Gallagher said China’s theft of research and innovation does not harm CEOs and lobbyists as much as it does farmers, servicemembers, and other Americans going about their daily lives.

While Chinese espionage may more commonly be associated with military targets or disruptive digital hacks, the country’s theft of intellectual property has extended into the agricultural realm.

In 2016, Mo Hailong was sentenced to three years in prison for conspiring to steal trade secrets from American seed corn companies.

The Chinese businessman was spotted digging up hybrid seeds in an Iowa cornfield years earlier and was arrested, while others fled before they could be jailed.

Speaking from Tama County where Mr. Mo was discovered, lawmakers sounded the alarm that China remained interested in agricultural technology.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, Iowa Republican, said China’s theft of seeds harms every Iowa farmer who pays for agricultural research, buys the resulting seeds for fields and then harvests crops to feed and fuel Americans.

“These high-tech seeds are among the most tightly guarded trade secrets in the industry. The Chinese Communist Party has these right in their targets,” Ms. Hinson said at a roundtable event with Iowans.

In the decade since Iowans first spotted Chinese businessmen crawling in their cornfields, farmers have grown more vigilant.

Will Cornelius, the vice president of Cornelius Seed, told the lawmakers people working in the seed industry are aware but the wider public has yet to catch on to China’s interest in America’s farms.

“I learned just the other day that one of our employees was part of that team that found those guys 10 years ago,” Mr. Cornelius said, referring to the Mo case. “It’s just if you see something out of place, say something and speak up.”

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.