State and federal officials are investigating the unsolicited delivery of mystery seed packets from China to Americans in several states.
The seed packets, which may arrive unexpectedly in packages bearing Chinese characters, may bear the name of China's state-run postal agency China Post and may be labeled as jewelry.
Officials are concerned the seeds could be an invasive species or could be tied to a fake product-review scam.
A USDA spokesperson said the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is aware that “people across the country have received unsolicited packages of seed from China in recent days.”
The spokesperson said USDA is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection and state agriculture departments to prevent the illegal entry of prohibited seeds and protect U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds.
Seed shipments "from China or other foreign sources" could "be a pathway for introduction of invasive species, insects and plant diseases," according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDACS).
North Carolina residents have reported getting unsolicited packages of cheap items like seeds and rubber bands. Seeds should not be planted, officials urge.
The NCDACS said the mystery seeds may be part of an international internet scam known as “brushing.”
"According to the Better Business Bureau, foreign, third-party sellers use your address and Amazon information to generate a fake sale and positive review to boost their product ratings,” said Phil Wilson, director of the Plant Industry Division. “Seeds are just one of the items used in this scam, however, you could receive other inexpensive items such as rubber bands, plastic toys, or empty bags.”
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as of July 28, had received at least 631 reports from Florida residents who have received the mystery seed packages.
“Plant seeds from unknown sources may introduce dangerous pathogens, diseases, or invasive species into Florida, putting agriculture and our state’s plant, animal, and human health at risk,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “Anyone receiving these suspicious seed packets should not plant them, but should report it to our department immediately, so that our inspectors can safely collect them for analysis.”
In Texas, about 200 residents have reported receiving the seed packets, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said, according to FOX 4 of Dallas.
“We don't want people opening those up, don't put them in the mail, certainly don’t plant them. Contact us. Let us pick them up. Treat them like they are radioactive, like they are Kryptonite,” Miller said.
Mark Rubial, who owns nurseries in Dallas, also warned about the seeds.
“It doesn’t seem like if you had three or four seeds it’s a big deal. But if you put those seeds out, they drop more seeds and we could actually get damage to our local plants,” Ruibal told FOX 4. “If someone sends you pills in the mail wouldn’t necessarily take them. It’s kind of the same thing.”
In Utah, residents are reporting strange packages from China that have jewelry labels on the outside but contain seeds on the inside.
Utah officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are investigating reports that hundreds of residents have received seeds in the mail they didn’t order.
Jane Rupp, president of the Better Business Bureau's Utah chapter, told FOX 13 in Salt Lake City the incidents could be a scam known as “brushing” where some companies will send you a product so they can post a fake review in your name.
Mike Strain, Louisiana’s commissioner of agriculture and forestry, which is investigating packages received in that state, said the USDA is also investigating the matter.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture posted a photo of a similar package on Twitter, asking residents to not plant the seeds.
Jim Geraghty wrote of communist China in a July 28 op-ed for National Review:
This government and its economic leaders are not good global citizens. By late April, Chinese companies sent out ten million defective coronavirus tests, masks, and other personal protective equipment. They run concentration camps, suppress churches, make aggressive territorial claims to international waters, strengthen the Iranian regime, lied about the coronavirus when it mattered most, and effectively conquered Hong Kong.Free Press International
The rulers in Beijing are a “rogue state” in every sense of the word. And yet, quite a few wealthy Americans — some of whom make an affluent living dribbling basketballs — wish to keep the American relationship with China intact, because this arrangement is financially good for them.