Thousands of Americans in around 30 states are getting packs of seeds shipped directly from China – without ordering them. The packages have been showing up in mailboxes recently, leaving people confused. This hasn’t just been happening in the U.S. People in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Europe, and Canada have also been sent the mysterious seeds.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is worried, and it has been collecting the seed packs. So far, the department has named 14 varieties, and they have turned out to be a “mix of ornamental, fruit and vegetable, herb and weed species.” There’s no evidence right now that the packets contain anything other than seeds, and there are several possible explanations why they’re being mailed. The most popular idea is that the seed packets are part of a marketing scam known as “brushing.” The USDA explains this theory on its website, saying that brushing is “where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.”
While some of the seeds may be perfectly safe, many worry that they won’t all be. Some could be contaminated, or the unknown species could damage the American ecosystem. The USDA warns people to be careful with the packages, and not to plant any of the seeds. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said: “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.”
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Wang Wenbin, said that the address labels had been forged and that it is illegal to send biological matter like seeds out of the country through the post. Some packages will be sent back to China for the government to help in the investigation.
So, what should you do if one of these lands in your mailbox?
- Don’t open the packets.
- Don’t plant the seeds.
- Don’t throw them in the trash – they could end up growing in landfill.
- Save the outer mailing label and packaging.
- Hand the packets over to your local agricultural agency.