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Officials Warn Public About Mystery Seeds


Published: Friday, July 31, 2020

Suspicious, unsolicited seeds are turning up in hundreds of mailboxes across the country and if received, Indiana and Michigan agricultural officials are warning residents to treat them with the utmost caution.

"There are mystery seeds being sent to people in the USA, mostly from China," Elkhart County Extension educator Jeff Burbrink wrote Tuesday in an email to The Exchange. "Lots of questions but not a lot of answers now. If you or a friend receive some, it's been advised not to plant them.

"It's best to assume there is some bad motivation behind this. We do not know specifically what type of seeds, whether the plants are invasive, or poisonous or laden with disease. From the pictures I have seen online, there appear to be several different species of plants involved."

Burbrink said some of the packets are labeled as if they contain jewelry and others appear to be from Uzbekistan. Anyone receiving seeds can turn them over to the Extension office or state plant official for analysis.

Residents in at least eight states, including Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Louisiana, Utah and Ohio, have received suspect packages containing seeds.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is warning residents who receive such packages not to open them or plant the seeds.

The seeds are usually sent in white packages displaying Chinese lettering and the words "China Post." Most recipients say they did not order anything, and that the packaging was labeled as jewelry. Some recipients have reported ordering seeds on Amazon and receiving these seeds instead.

"If you receive unsolicited seeds from another country, do not plant them. If they are in sealed packaging, do not open the package," said Mike Philip, director of MDARD's Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division. "We don't know what type of seeds are in the packages, but we do know they 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 packages may be a part of a "brushing" scam. A brushing scam is an nefarious deed perpetrated by a vendor to bolster product ratings and increase visibility online by shipping an inexpensive product to an unwitting receiver and then submitting positive reviews on the receiver's behalf under the guise of a verified owner.

"If planted, these unknown and potentially invasive species could have a very negative impact on the environment. Additionally, we're asking people not to throw the seeds or packages away or dispose of them," added Philip. "MDARD appreciates the cooperation of Michiganders who receive these packages as we work together to protect Michigan agriculture."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service's Plant Protection and Quarantine Smuggling, Interdiction and Trade Compliance Unit is currently investigating this situation across the nation.

If you receive an unsolicited package of seeds from China, hold on to the seeds, packaging and mailing label, and contact MDARD's customer service center, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 800/292-3939 or via email at MDA-Info@michigan.gov.

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