All 50 U.S. states have issued warnings about unsolicited packages containing unknown seeds sent to random U.S. households from China.
According to various photos shared by the state departments, people across the country have received packages that appear to have been processed by China Post, which operates the official postal service of China. Labels on the packages indicate there is jewelry inside, only to reveal clear packets of seeds.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday that the labels appear to be forged and that China Post has asked the U.S. Postal Service to send such packages back to China for investigation.
The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Tuesday that its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) agency is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and state departments of agriculture, to investigate the situation.
“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,” the department announced.
U.S. residents are advised to immediately report the unsolicited packages to their local agriculture departments and not dispose of or plant the seeds, over concerns that the packages containing invasive or harmful pests and weeds.
“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,” the USDA advised.
There is no evidence to suggest the situation is something other than a “brushing scam,” the department also said. The scam involves people sending unsolicited items to a given U.S. address to qualify as a “verified buyer,” after which they pose as a customer with the same address to post positive but false product reviews to boost sales.
To meet legal requirements, seeds that are imported into the United States must have a “USDA Permit to Import Plants and Plant Products” and a phytosanitary certificate (pdf).
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture, which was among the first state departments to issue warnings about the situation, said that if people had already planted the seeds, they should pull up the plants, double-bag them, and put them in the trash.
“It’s not a good idea to compost them,” the agency said in an announcement.
Canada’s Food Inspection Agency on Tuesday also issued a warning to its citizens about unsolicited seeds, following similar reports from Canadians.
The warnings from each U.S. state can be viewed below:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.