Mystery seed packages focus of concern
State and federal officials have issued an alert about mystery packages with unidentified seeds which began to show up in mailboxes across the United States during late July.
University of Illinois Extension horticulture experts urge people to never plant unidentified seeds.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating the situation and collecting seeds packets to test their contents.
The packages, which appear to be from China, had not been reported as of July 28 in Illinois.
Officials in 27 states were urging residents to report any suspicious packets of seeds.
University of Illinois Extension horticulture experts advise it is not a good practice to plant seeds from unknown origins or of an unknown species.
“One of the major risks would be the introduction of a potential invasive plant species,” says Illinois Extension forester Chris Evans.
“Those seeds could also harbor pests or diseases that could impact native species, agricultural crops, or desirable ornamentals.”
If you receive unsolicited and unidentified packages of seeds, the Illinois Department of Agriculture recommends you do no open the package or throw it out.
Contact the department by emailing agr.seeds@Illinois.gov with your name, phone number and the number of packages received and wait for further instruction.
You can also contact the Illinois plant regulatory official or the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Illinois plant health director.
Initial reports from the USDA suggests the seeds might be part of a “brushing scam” where online sellers send unsolicited items and then post false customer reviews to boost sales.
The use of marketing seed packets has become a popular marketing tool.
In late July, University of Illinois Extension sent out “Together We Bloom” packets of wildflower and forget-me-not seeds to encourage residents to fill out their census form.
Extension’s packets of forget-me-nots are the variety myosotis sylvatica and will arrive in packets clearly labeled with the contents of the packet and the organization who sent them.
Extension partnered with the Illinois Department of Agriculture to address low census response rates in select Illinois communities.
Illinois Department of Agriculture Statement
The Illinois Department of Agriculture on July 28 issued the following statement about the unsolicited seeds:
“We are currently working with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to address reports of unsolicited shipments of seeds from foreign countries.
“Anyone who receives unordered seeds in the mail should contact the Illinois Department of Agriculture by emailing the following information to agr.seeds@Illinois.gov: First and Last Name, Phone Number and the number of packages received.
“Do not open the package, plant the seeds, or throw them out. Please keep all seeds unopened and with their original packaging and labels, including mailing labels, until further instruction is provided.”
USDA Investigates Packages
The U.S. Department of Agriculture posted the following information about the seeds on its website on July 28:
“USDA is aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China.
“USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and State departments of agriculture to investigate the situation.
“USDA urges anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their State plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director.
“Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your State department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions. Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.
“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.
“USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.
“USDA is committed to preventing the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protecting U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds.
“Visit the APHIS’ website to learn more about USDA’s efforts to stop agricultural smuggling and promote trade compliance.”