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Seeds of terror: Fears of ‘bio-warfare’ by China have taken root

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on August 05, 2020 Published on August 05, 2020

India on alert, believes seeds may be smuggled in, given its contiguity with China

The unsolicited arrival of plant seed packets earlier in the week from China in the mailboxes of thousands of US residents has set off alarm in the US.

The arrival of seeds in e-commerce packages from China, with shipping tags describing it as jewellery or toys, is being treated with deep suspicion by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture.

In India, too, external and internal agencies of the government view this development as a form of covert biological warfare by the Chinese Deep State.

Indian government and agencies, already grappling with the Chinese-origin Covid-19 virus outbreak, view such developments as a danger to the country’s food security. China’s biological warfare capabilities are known, senior government officials told BusinessLine.

The main motive behind such covert practices may be to create large-scale disruption of the agriculture sector, affecting the yield and productivity of the main cash and food crops, and leading to a shortage of agricultural products. The cascading effects of such attacks could be a demand-supply mismatch and a rise in food inflation. Such attacks will also cause unknown diseases, which no medical or agriculture authority can handle, the officials said.

In a July 31 statement, the APHIS had said that the main concern is the potential for these seeds to introduce damaging pests or diseases that could harm US agriculture.

Senior Indian Government officials said China has advanced scientific capabilities and can mount such an attack on India’s soil too. Given India’s land border with China, smuggling seeds into the country is easy. A serious attack by adding plant pathogens such as bacteria, parasitic fungi and viruses to the seeds of foods and cash crops is possible.

GM technology could also be adversely used to bring about crop disease epidemics. Plant seeds are an easy target, and India already has a large-scale illegal trade in such seeds, with farmers gaining access to banned HTBT cotton and other GM seeds. This could be used as a conduit by China for biological warfare, the officials said.

Given all this, a renewed vigilance is required, note Indian officials. In particular, the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine & Storage and the Customs Department need to enhance their vigil.

The Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine & Storage has been mandated to prevent the introduction of exotic pests inimical to Indian agriculture. It works closely with the Customs Department.

Retired Indian Army Officer and domain expert Colonel GHR Naidu told BusinessLine that China acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention 1972, but it could still resort to agrobiology attacks. As soon as the Covid-19 outbreak took place, scientists and the strategic community pointed fingers at China for possible intentional leak of the coronavirus. Similarly, such attacks by China on agriculture of many nations, including India, could be possible, he said.

Col Naidu, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive materials (CBRNE) professional and who has earlier served with the Netherlands-based Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as Chief Chemical Weapons Inspector, recalled that in the 1960s, the US supplied what and grains to India under the PL-480 programme. Along with the wheat, an invasive weed, Parthenium hysterophorus, perhaps inadvertently got mixed up, and spread over large areas of the country, causing crop damage. Such is the hidden destructive power of such harmful agriculture and biological agents, he said.

BusinessLine reached out to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, for comments. However, their offices have not yet responded.

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Published on August 05, 2020
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