Investigation Launched Into Mysterious Seed Packages That People Are Getting in the Mail

July 30, 2020

    If you get something in the mail from China that you didn't order, don't open it or throw it away.

    That’s the warning coming from the USDA and agriculture officials after an alarming number of reports about unsolicited packages of foreign seeds showing up in residents’ mailboxes across the United States.

    The packages prompted warnings that also advised residents not to plant the seeds as they are concerned they may be an “invasive plant species.”

    The mystery packages, which were labeled as “jewelry,” are believed to have originated in China.

    Chicago resident Sandra Serrato said she received some in the mail.

    “It was an international label with Chinese writing on it,” Serrato told CBS 2, adding, “and it declared it as a necklace.”

    "My name was on there, my address was on there – so that was my concern is, how is that I’m getting random packages all the way from China?” she said.

    The Illinois Department of Agriculture said it heard from about 100 people as of Tuesday.

    CBS News confirmed that residents in all 50 states have reported receiving packages of seeds.

    "USDA is aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China," the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said in a statement Tuesday, adding, that it is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection and other federal and state agencies to investigate the seeds.

    The Pennsylvania Agricultural Secretary Russell Redding warned that planting the seeds could harm the ecosystem.

    “Seeds sold in Pennsylvania are rigorously tested to ensure that they are genetically pure and regulated to ensure that what’s on the label is what’s in the package,” Secretary Redding said. “Planting seeds without knowing what they are can wreak havoc with our environment, destroy agricultural crops and incur costly control efforts for years to come.”

    "We don't know what they are, and we cannot risk any harm whatsoever to agricultural production in the United States," Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said. "We have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world and we need to keep it that way."

    The packages may be a part of a “brushing” scam, officials say. In such a scam, a vendor sends out an inexpensive product to an unwitting receiver and then writes positive reviews about the product on the receiver’s behalf, in an attempt to appear legitimate and bolster ratings.

    Among those who received the seeds is Kelly Ford, host of "Kelly Ford in the Morning" at New York's Country 94.7.

    "The ones I got were teeny, little, almost look like miniature apple seeds and I got three packets of them. Thank God I didn't just plant them,” she said.

    Ford contacted state agriculture officials and was asked to mail them the sealed packages for investigation.

    If you receive a package of seeds in the mail you are asked to retain the seeds and packaging and if opened, double bag the seeds and do not plant them or throw away the loose seeds.

    You are then asked to report the package to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s anti smuggling hotline at 1-800-877-3835 or email the USDA.

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