Food Trends

Chinese man going to prison for stealing US corn seeds, DuPont trade secrets

Corn theft is taken seriously in United States.

Corn theft is taken seriously in United States.  (iStock)

A naturalized American citizen originally from China has been sentenced to three years in prison for his part in stealing corn scientifically-enhanced seeds and sending them to a corporation in Beijing.

Businessman Mo Hailong, employed by Beijing’s Kings Nower Seed, worked with five other Chinese nationals to rob trade secrets from a pair of American agricultural heavyweights: Dupont Pioneer and Monsanto.

Working side by side, the team reportedly smuggled around 1,000 pounds of corn seeds to Beijing (some of which were discovered by custom officers hidden in manila envelopes surrounded by boxes of microwaveable popcorn). Those samples that made it through customs were sent out to scientists at Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., the parent company of Kings Nower Seed, to be studied and duplicated in the country. 

“We need to send a message to China that this kind of criminal behavior is not tolerated in the United States,” said US District Court Judge Stephanie Rose, who presided over the case, on Wednesday when handing over the ruling decision. 

But stealing these patented seeds isn't something either of these companies take likely.And the U.S. government agrees. According to the FBI a “parent” or “inbred” seed “constitutes valuable intellectual property of a seed producer.” Based on a press release the bureau released related to a seed theft in 2013, “the estimated loss on an inbred line of seed is approximately five to eight years of research and a minimum of 30 to 40 million dollars.”

Monsanto has previously aggressively protected its technology, and has been known to sue farmers who saved seeds from prior plantings for reuse. That action violates a contract farmers using Monsanto seeds are required to sign. 

Now Hailong, who lived in America for two decades and has a wife and two children who are all U.S. citizens, will likely face deportation when he’s released. He’ll also have to pay restitution to Monsanto and Dupont Pioneer for the theft.