EVANSTON — The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has issued a warning about unsolicited seed packages being sent to people across North America. 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.
All 50 states have issued warnings about the packages. APHIS is asking anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds from China to immediately contact their state plant regulatory official or the APHIS state plant health director. Those receiving the seeds are also asked not to open the packages, not to throw them in the garbage and to keep the seeds, packaging and mailing label to give the USDA or APHIS official.
According to USA Today, the USDA has currently identified 14 different kinds of seeds in the packages from China. The packages contain seeds of flowering plants like hibiscus, roses, morning glories, and other seeds are vegetables like cabbage and a variety of herbs. The USDA is continuing to collect and test the seeds for possible contaminents, such as insecticides or fungicides that could damage crops, or invasive species. There has been no evidence yet of anything other than a possible “brushing scam,” where people receive unsolicited items and the seller then posts false customer reviews in order to boost sales. The “brushing scam” is common in China.
An Aug. 3 Fortune news release stated the strange seeds started appearing in American mailboxes at least two months ago. The seeds from China have also been reported in the U.K., New Zealand and Canada. The main concern for USDA/APHIS is the potential of the seeds introducing pests or diseases that could harm U.S. agriculture.
Close to Wyoming, a Fox 13-Salt Lake City news story, stated that the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) had reported at least 125 cases of people receiving the seed packages by the end of July. Director of Plant Industry for UDAF Robert Hougaard said, “We have received packages from Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, but a majority of those have been from China.”
Chris Aimone, supervisor at Uinta County Weed and Pest Control, said she has received no calls at this time regarding anyone in Uinta County having received the seeds from China, but said local residents should be aware in case they do received seeds in the mail.
“We have enough ... to deal with, we don’t need another problem,” she said. “It is difficult as it is due to funding issues.”
Anyone receiving one of these packages of seeds should immediately call Uinta County Weed and Pest at 307-789-9289 or contact the USDA/APHIS at 307-432-7979.