Former Special Assistant to George W. Bush Michael Allen unpacks the threat of China for the United States and global security.
China’s determination to become self-sufficent and resolve its food security challenges could put the U.S., as the world’s leading producer in agriculture, in Beijing’s crosshairs, a federal report warned this week.
The report released by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) warned that China’s efforts to bolster its agricultural sector not only pose an economic challenge but a threat to U.S. security.
China’s failure to secure enough domestic production to feed its mammoth population means it has looked to nations like the U.S. to acquire farmland, livestock, equipment and intellectual property – in some cases through theft.
China’s President Xi Jinping speaks during the joint opening ceremony of the 8th round of U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues and the 7th round of U.S.-China High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange, in Beijing.
“The United States is a global leader in all of these fields, making it a prime trading partner and often a target of China’s efforts to strengthen its agriculture sector and food security, sometimes through illicit means,” the report stated.
China is looking to dominate the genetically modified seed industry, which has the potential for massive economic windfalls.
Advancing Beijing’s seed stockpiles would not only reduce its dependence on nations like the U.S., it could make it a major competitor in the global market.
The USCC report found that the U.S. exported $1.62 billion worth of seeds, mostly vegetables, corn, soybeans and grasses, in 2020.
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting commemorating the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Oct. 9, 2021.
(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo)
In 2021, $173.9 million of exported seeds were sold to China alone, which equated to roughly 15% of total exports.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has directed the agricultural industry to expand its seed collection as he looks to cut China’s reliance on foreign resources.
Rather than directing its resources for development and research in domestic seed innovations, spying has become a chief tool for its agriculture industry.
“Acquiring U.S. trade secrets through agricultural espionage has become a convenient way for China to improve its agricultural output and become more competitive in global markets,” the report found. “Agricultural IP theft could enable Chinese agribusinesses to undercut U.S. competitors on international seed markets.”
But outside the economic woes Beijing could inflict on the U.S. lies an even more ominous threat on U.S. food production.
A wheat warehouse belonging to Ivan Kilgan, head of the regional agricultural association village, in Luky village, in western Ukraine, March 25, 2022.
Genetically engineered seeds help to circumvent the unpredictable reality the agriculture industry faces every season by mitigating the risk of drought, pests and diseases.
Though the technology behind genetically modifying a crop can save a farming season, it can also be used to target engineered crops.
“One vulnerability of genetically modified seeds is their limited genetic variation. Consequently, a virus or fungus engineered to kill a genetically modified plant could wipe out an entire crop with no genetic variation to mitigate the losses,” the report found.
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Rep. Glenn Thompson told Fox News “food security is national security” and said the USCC report showed the U.S. needs to take tougher stances to safeguard U.S. intellectual property and the agricultural industry.
Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., speaks during a news conference held by House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., May 18, 2012.
(By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
“Our producers go to great lengths to guarantee the U.S. provides the safest food supply, and that cannot be jeopardized,” he said. “It is high time to reinforce our battered supply chains and ensure U.S. producers have access to free and fair markets to ease the impact of the looming global food crisis.”
Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, China expressed concern that bioterrorism could be an increasing threat and biosecurity became a chief priority for the nation.
Traditionally, China has been hesitant to import animals and plants that have been genetically modified.
But the report noted that Beijing has “increasingly acknowledged the strategic advantages [of] genetically modified organisms” and could be using Western imports to develop its technology and achieve global agricultural dominance.
“The Chinese Communist Party clearly wants to supplant our country’s influence and leadership in every area, including agriculture,” Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. John Boozman told Fox News. “We must not fall asleep at the switch and give China an opening to exploit.
A combine harvests wheat, Aug. 5, 2021, near Pullman, Wash.
“The Biden administration and Congress must make every effort to protect our food supply, the intellectual property and technology that make our agriculture industry the envy of the world and our supply chains from vulnerabilities Beijing wishes to leverage to its benefit and U.S. detriment,” Boozman added.
The USCC said it recommends the intelligence community start working with the United States Department of Agriculture to develop and protect the U.S. agricultural industry and better safeguard it against foreign adversaries like China.