People across the country have reported receiving unsolicited packages of seeds in the mail that appear to be sent from China. And agriculture officials in 30 states are warning the public not to plant them.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is aware of the reports and is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, and other state and federal agencies, to investigate the situation, according to a statement.
So what should you do if you receive one of the mysterious package?
The USDA urged the public to contact their state’s plant regulatory official or state’s animal and plant health inspection service.
“Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your state department of agriculture or APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) contacts you with further instructions,” the statement said. “Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.”
Local agriculture officials like Sid Miller, Texas agriculture commissioner, also urged Texans not to plant these seeds, as they could contain harmful invasive species or be otherwise unsafe, according to a release. Invasive species are organisms not native to a certain region. The introduction of invasive species could cause the destruction of native crops, introduce diseases to native plants and could be dangerous to livestock.
“An invasive plant species might not sound threatening, but these small invaders could destroy Texas agriculture,” Miller said in a statement. The Texas Department of Agriculture “has been working closely with USDA to analyze these unknown seeds so we can protect Texas residents.”
The USDA is collecting seed packages and will test them to determine if they contain anything harmful to agriculture or the environment.
Police in Whitehouse, Ohio, said the seeds are not “directly dangerous,” but appear to be connected to an online scam. Officials believe they may be part of a “brushing scam” where sellers send people unsolicited items so they can post false customer reviews to boost sales. Some of the packages were labeled as jewelry and may have Chinese writing on them, according to agriculture officials.
The agriculture departments in 30 states have recently issued statements warning residents about the seeds: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
People in Utah, Arizona and Ohio have also reported receiving the mysterious packages, local news outlets reported.
Contributing: Alana Edgin, San Angelo Standard-Times
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg