Yesterday, we reported that multiple states were warning people on social media to be on the watch for unsolicited packages containing seeds that appear to have originated from China. As the story developed, more than 27 state’s agricultural departments published some type of message urging residents not to plant the unsolicited seeds. Jumping on that message band wagon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service today released a statement with further explanation.
The statement said, “USDA is aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China. USDA’s APHIS is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and State departments of agriculture to investigate the situation.
“USDA urges anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their State plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director. Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your State department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions. Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.
“At this time, we don’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. USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.”
State agriculture departments have also released their own guidance and explanation. For example, the Missouri Department of Agriculture said, “It is important to take steps to prevent the introduction of invasive species into Missouri to ensure safety of the environment, livestock, and plants. The full risk associated with the seeds in question is unknown at this time. However, the seeds could be an invasive species that has the potential to destroy native plants and damage crops. Invasive species can also introduce diseases to plants and may be harmful to livestock.
“The Missouri Department of Agriculture is playing a cooperative role in USDA’s investigation; however, USDA is leading the effort from the federal level. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is also working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection to prevent the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protect U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds.”