Knock-Off Seeds

Published on Author destefano

Over the past couple of decades, many Chinese companies have been accused of economic espionage, and it has become commonplace to see Chinese knock-offs in everything from electronics to fashion.  However, it seems as if the agriculture sector with begin to also feels the effects of Chinese economic espionage.  Within the last year, there have been two cases of proprietary seed theft by Chinese natives. The more recent of the two involves Mo Hailong, who was arrest in December for stealing trade secrets. Mo was arraigned last week after about a year of F.B.I surveillance of him and his associates, “all of whom but one worked for the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group or its subsidiary Kings Nower Seed.”

The other case involves two men named, Zhang Weiqiang and Yan Wengui, both of whom are U.S. citizens and work for US-based companies. According to the article, the two men arranged for a group of Chinese scientists to come to America, where they discussed the research Zhang and Yan were doing in America. Zhang and Yan also showed the group around the facilities where they worked. When the group tried to leave the US, proprietary rice seeds were found in their luggage.

Currently foreign vegetable seeds make up 80% of the Chinese market. The main reason for the lack of development in this area has to do with the make-up of China’s seed industry, which is fragmented and full of corruption. For example, companies sometimes use farmers to help breed seeds, but when it comes time to harvest the seeds, the farmers will not sell them back to the original breeding company as a rival company with offer to pay more for them. With such widespread theft in China’s seed industry, it is no surprise that it has spilled over into the US. The question is, how long has this been going on before getting caught?

One Response to Knock-Off Seeds

  1. This is one more example of the challenge consumers have in observing quality; ealier there were big scandals with doctored baby formula and milk and lots of cases of food poisoning. If we go back in US history we can find similar challenges, which was one reason for setting up the Federal Trade Commission.
    Another response is branding (and then working to stamp out copyright infringement). Of course with true-breeding “pure strain” seeds you can save part of your output and plant it the next season. For that reason effectively all commercial seeds are hybrids, to prevent farmers from doing that.
    If you go to EconPapers you’ll find several papers on seed markets in China – it’s a potential paper topic.