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Mysterious seed packets arriving by mail across U.S., including Michigan: What we know

Keith Matheny
Detroit Free Press

A Clinton Township family is among people in multiple states reporting receiving mysterious packets of various seeds in the mail, apparently from China, that they didn't order.

The packets contain no explanation or invoice, and the envelopes often describe the seeds as a jewelry item — perhaps to get around restrictions on the international distribution of plants, animals and seeds.

State and federal agriculture officials warn the seeds should not be opened and should be reported, as they could pose an invasive species or plant disease threat.

Clinton Township resident Mike Garvonic said his family received three envelopes, containing unmarked packets of three different types of seeds, in the mail from China last week. The couple never ordered the seeds, he said. Two of the envelopes were marked as containing necklaces.

Mike Garvonic of Clinton Township said three small, gray envelopes arrived at his family's home via the mail last week. 

"All of a sudden, we've got these packets, over two or three days," he said. "We never ordered them."

Inside each envelope was a different type of seed — no other information, just seeds in sealed plastic packets. While one envelope described its contents as seeds, the other two said it had a necklace inside, Garvonic said.

 "If it turns out to be an invasive species, and people plant these or throw these into their trash and it gets out into the environment, it could devastate our agriculture," he said.

Agricultural departments in Washington state, Louisiana, Kansas, Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio have issued statements about people in their states receiving similar unsolicited Chinese seed packets, the New York Times reported Sunday.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is also aware of the ongoing situation "as a national issue," MDARD spokeswoman Jennifer Holton said

Clinton Township resident Mike Garvonic said his family received three envelopes, containing unmarked packets of three different types of seeds, in the mail from China last week. The couple never ordered the seeds, he said. Two of the envelopes were marked as containing necklaces. *The receiver's address and phone number have been redacted from this photo.*

The packages appear to be part of a "brushing" scam, Holton said. A brushing scam is an exploit by a vendor used to bolster product ratings and increase visibility online by shipping an inexpensive product to an unwitting receiver, then submitting positive reviews on the receiver's behalf under the guise of a verified owner, she said.

"If you receive these, do not plant them," she said. "It is currently unknown what types of seeds are in the packages. The seeds come in a variety of sizes and colors, with some reported to be very tiny. These unsolicited seeds could be invasive, introduce diseases to local plants, or be harmful to livestock."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Monday called on anyone who has received such packets to hold onto the unopened seeds and envelopes and immediately contact their state plant regulatory official, or the APHIS state plant health director in their respective state. 

Seed recipients can contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 or via email at MDA-Info@michigan.gov. USDA's State Plant Health Director for Michigan, Craig Kellogg, can be reached at 734-942-9005 or by email at Craig.Kellogg@usda.gov

"APHIS is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection and state departments of agriculture to prevent the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protect U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds," the agency said in a statement Monday.

Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or kmatheny@freepress.com.