Legislators Call for Restrictions: China’s Leading Genomics Company Faces Potential US Ban
Bipartisan legislation introduced in both houses of Congress aims to effectively bar China’s largest genomics company, BGI, from conducting business in the United States.
Backed by leaders of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party and the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the bills respond to years of warnings from intelligence officials about Beijing’s alleged collection of genetic information that poses potential threats to national security.
The proposed legislation specifically targets BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, which the Pentagon blacklisted as a Chinese military company in 2021.
Five affiliates of BGI have also faced sanctions from the Commerce Department, with accusations of improper use of genetic information against ethnic minorities in China.
The bills, enjoying bipartisan and bicameral support, seek to prohibit BGI, or any company using its technology, from entering into federal contracts.
Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) revealed in an exclusive interview with NBC News that the objective is to prevent BGI’s technology, a leading supplier of genetic sequencing equipment in the American market, from further penetrating the US landscape.
The lawmakers emphasize their concern about BGI’s influence within the US market, citing potential risks associated with the company’s technology. Representative Gallagher expressed the view that preventing BGI’s involvement in federal contracts is a necessary step to safeguard national interests.
In response to the legislative initiative, BGI issued a statement expressing its full support for protecting personal data.
However, the company argued that the proposed legislation, which could drive BGI from the US market, would not achieve the intended goal and could lead to negative consequences, including restricting competition, raising healthcare costs, and limiting access to technologies.
China’s BGI Under Scrutiny for Military Ties and Genetic Data Concerns
Representative Krishnamoorthi countered BGI’s claims, pointing to evidence suggesting extensive collaboration between BGI and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He expressed concern about military-civil fusion practices in China, especially when coupled with the potential collection of data on Americans for research with the PLA.
The push against BGI comes amid broader international concerns about the company’s activities. An investigation by Reuters in 2021 revealed that BGI’s popular prenatal test, taken globally but not in the US, was developed in collaboration with the Chinese military. This raised alarms about the company using the test to collect genetic data.
The US National Counterintelligence and Security Center has warned that China has been able to access US healthcare data, including genomic data, through various channels.
This poses significant risks not only to the privacy of Americans but also to the economic and national security of the United States.
The bipartisan efforts to restrict BGI’s operations in the US underscore the ongoing concerns about the potential misuse of genetic information for national security purposes.
As the legislation progresses through Congress, the debate intensifies over the delicate balance between protecting personal data and mitigating risks posed by foreign entities in the realm of genomics.