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Why Is China Mailing Mysterious Boxes of Seeds Around the World?

Thousands of people have received unordered seeds, but what should they do about it?

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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 recipients 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.” Some of them included common plants like rose, cabbage, hibiscus, mint, morning glory, mustard, lavender, rosemary, and sage. The packages didn’t say what was inside, and were instead labeled with other items, such as jewelry or toys. Many of these packages bear Chinese characters, along with the name “China Post.”

There’s no evidence right now that the packets contain anything other than seeds, and several theories are circulating as to the purpose of the mass mailing. 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 is suggesting the packages be handled with caution. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried cautioned: “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.”

China’s authorities have joined the investigation, arranging for some of the packets to be sent back for investigation. A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Wang Wenbin, stated 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.

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.

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