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Not So Magical Mystery Seeds

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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A USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Identification Services (NIS) botanist examines seeds from an unsolicited package of seed. (Photo courtesy of USDA APHIS)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Those mysterious packages containing unsolicited seeds shipped from China in July and August are still under investigation.

According to USDA reports, it is unknown exactly how many seed packets may have entered the United States, but reports of the packages have been confirmed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Other countries, including Canada, Australia and the European Union member nations have also reported citizens receiving unsolicited seed packages.

Cecilia Sequeira, a public affairs specialist with USDA APHIS, told DTN via email that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has identified two trends regarding the seed packages:

-- People ordered seeds online but were unaware those seeds would be sent from a foreign country and would not be in compliance with U.S. import requirements.

-- People received seeds even though they did not order any.

"We believe these latter packages are part of a brushing scam, where an online merchant creates false buyer accounts and posts positive reviews of their products to boost their rating on the ecommerce site. Before an ecommerce site will consider an order valid, a shipment must be initiated to complete the transaction. Sellers carrying out brushing scams will often ship inexpensive items to complete these transactions. The more transactions a seller completes, the higher their rating and the more likely that their items will appear at the top of search results on an ecommerce site," wrote Sequeira.

The identification of the source of the seed packages is still being sought, but Sequeira noted that based on postmarks, the vast majority of packages were mailed from China.

"We are working with our counterparts in China to determine who is sending the packages to the United States. At this time, we have not observed any commonalities among recipients other than they have all previously shopped online," Sequeira said.

So far, experts have identified more than 300 different taxa of

ornamental, fruit and vegetable, herb and weed seeds.

"Overall, we haven't seen anything of major concern, but we have found a few pests that are considered quarantine significant under our regulations. They include one immature, non-stinging wasp from the genus Megastigmus, two federal noxious weeds (water spinach and dodder), and a larval seed beetle from the Chrysomelidae family," according to Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator of APHIS' Plant Protection and Quarantine Program.

If you receive unsolicited seeds, agriculture officials are asking that you don't eat, plant or discard them.

-- Place the unopened seed packet and any packaging, including the mailing label in a mailing envelope. If the seed packets are open, first place the seeds and their packaging into a zip-lock bag, seal it and then place everything into a mailing envelope.

-- Include your name, address and phone number so that a state or federal agriculture official can contact you for additional information, if needed.

-- If you received other unsolicited items in addition to seeds, send only the seeds.

-- If you are unable to mail the package, contact your APHIS state plant health director to arrange a no-contact pick-up or determine a convenient drop-off location.

To find your APHIS State Plant Office go to: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/….

For more information on unsolicited seed go to:

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/….

Pamela Smith can be reached at pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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