UK politicians have requested an investigation into the Chinese maker of a prenatal genetic test, citing concerns related to its use of genomic data collected in the UK.
BGI Group is China's leading genomics company, and its non-invasive prenatal test 'NIFTY' is used across 52 countries to screen for genetic abnormalities in fetuses by examining fetal DNA in the mother's blood. It is not used by the NHS, but is sold privately in the UK, according to the Daily Mail.
A group of MPs and peers submitted a letter to the Information Commissioner's Office, saying: 'We are writing to ask that you launch an investigation into privacy concerns around genome sequencing company BGI Group and in particular its NIFTY prenatal tests.'
The letter cites a 2021 Reuters investigation which found that BGI developed the NIFTY tests in collaboration with the Chinese military, and is using them to collect genetic data from millions of women for 'sweeping research on the traits of populations' (see BioNews 1112). The letter concludes that 'it is vital consumers have full transparency in order to carefully assess the risks associated with sharing such data with state-linked Chinese companies.'
While the BGI Group have denied all allegations and links to the Chinese state, the company and several subsidiaries have been blacklisted by the US government - most recently in March 2023 over allegations that it conducted genetic analysis and surveillance activities for Beijing, which Washington said was used to repress ethnic minorities in China, notably Tibetan and Uyghur populations, Sky News reported.
MPs and peers have now called for an urgent investigation to scrutinise the company's access to genetic data, with calls to consider banning BGI Group and similar companies involved in collecting and storing genomic data.
'I would love to think it is respectful of privacy and security and individual rights, but we know from the practices of the government in China that it is using genomic data for surveillance. We have got to ask ourselves can we really trust BGI to be doing genomic testing here in the UK?' he said.
The letter was also signed by MPs Henry Smith, Siobhain McDonagh, Taiwo Owatemi, and Charlotte Nichols, who serve on the foreign affairs, Treasury, health, and business and trade select committees respectively, and Alister Carmichael who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs. Signatories represent the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.
A BGI Group spokesperson said it 'will be fully transparent and welcomes any opportunity to provide information on our work in the UK'.