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Seeds from China: USDA says don't plant unsolicited package of seeds

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
The Washington State Department of Agriculture said it has received reports of people receiving seeds in the mail from China that they did not order.

People across the country including Wisconsin residents have reported receiving unsolicited packages of seeds in the mail that appear to be sent from China. And agriculture officials in 30 states are warning the public not to plant them.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has said the types of seeds in the packages are currently unknown and may contain invasive plant species. Similar packages have been received in other locations across the United States.

All foreign seeds shipped to the United States should have a phytosanitary certificate which guarantees the seeds meet import requirements. Unsolicited seeds could be invasive species, contain noxious weeds, could introduce diseases to local plants, or could be harmful to livestock. Invasive species and noxious weeds can displace native plants and increase costs of food production.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is aware of the reports and is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, and other state and federal agencies, to investigate the situation, according to a statement. 

So what should you do if you receive one of the mysterious packages? Wisconsin DATCP officials advise residents to NOT plant or throw away the seeds. If the seeds are in sealed packaging, do not open the sealed package. If possible, retain the original packaging which may aid state officials in investigating the mailing.

Wisconsin residents are advised to report the seeds to DATCP using an online form at https://bit.ly/3hKVx0i.

After filling out the online form, please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until DATCP or APHIS contacts you with further instructions.

The USDA urged the public to contact their state's plant regulatory official or the state's animal and plant health inspection service.

Local agriculture officials like Sid Miller, Texas agriculture commissioner, also urged Texans not to plant these seeds, as they could contain harmful invasive species or be otherwise unsafe, according to a release. Invasive species are organisms not native to a certain region. The introduction of invasive species could cause the destruction of native crops, introduce diseases to native plants and could be dangerous to livestock.

“An invasive plant species might not sound threatening, but these small invaders could destroy Texas agriculture," Miller said in a statement. The Texas Department of Agriculture "has been working closely with USDA to analyze these unknown seeds so we can protect Texas residents.”

The USDA is collecting seed packages and will test them to determine if they contain anything harmful to agriculture or the environment.

Police in Whitehouse, Ohio, said the seeds are not "directly dangerous," but appear to be connected to an online scam. Officials believe they may be part of a "brushing scam" where sellers send people unsolicited items so they can post false customer reviews to boost sales. Some of the packages were labeled as jewelry and may have Chinese writing on them, according to agriculture officials.

The agriculture departments in 30 states have recently issued statements warning residents about the seeds: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

People in Utah, Arizona and Ohio have also reported receiving the mysterious packages, local news outlets reported. 

N'dea Yancey-Bragg from USA TODAY contributed to this report.