The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and agriculture officials across the country have issued warnings about unsolicited shipments of foreign seeds and advised people not to plant them.
Officials are concerned the mystery seeds, which appear to have originated in China, could be invasive plant species. It’s reported that residents in all 50 states have now been receiving
suspicious packages of seeds.
“(The) USDA is aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China," said the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
It said it is working closely with federal and state partners, including Customs and Border Protection, to investigate.
The agency tweeted - “Please don't plant seeds from unknown origins!"
In Virginia, state agriculture officials warned that “Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops. Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations."
In Kentucky, the state agriculture department was notified that several residents received unsolicited seed packets sent by mail that appeared to have originated in China.
According to Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles - the types of seeds are unknown and could be harmful, stressing they should not be planted.
"We don't know what they are, and we cannot risk any harm whatsoever to agricultural production in the United States," he said. "We have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world and we need to keep it that way."
Anyone in Kentucky receiving packages of foreign or unfamiliar seeds should contact the state agriculture department immediately, Quarles said.
"At this point in time, we don't have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam or an act of agricultural bio-terrorism," he said. "Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment."
APHIS said the USDA is collecting seed packets from people who received them and will test the contents to see if they contain anything that "could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment."
But it also said that as of Tuesday, it didn't have "any evidence indicating this is something other than a 'brushing scam' where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales."
In North Carolina, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it was contacted by numerous people who received seed shipments they did not order. The agency said the shipments were likely the product of the international internet scam known as "brushing."
"According to the Better Business Bureau, foreign, third-party sellers use your address and Amazon information to generate a fake sale and positive review to boost their product ratings," said Phil Wilson, director of the state's Plant Industry Division.
New York Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball said in a statement Monday that his office had also fielded "a few" queries from residents who got unsolicited "packages allegedly sent from China that are marked as containing jewelry but which actually contain plant seeds."
Ball confirmed that the USDA was investigating, and told residents not to handle or plant the seeds.