From county extension agents to state agriculture commissioners to USDA, the public is being warned about “mysterious and unsolicited seed” shipments coming from China that may show up in their mailboxes.  The unsolicited seeds are from China or maybe other parts of Asia.

The seed packages — often labeled as jewelry or toys — are being shipped to post office boxes throughout America.  Consumers are being warned not to open or plant the seeds, but instead turn them into agricultural officials.

The immediate fear is the seeds might spread an invasive species that could  ” devastate the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects, severely damage crops, and poison livestock,” according to California’s Butte County Agriculture Commissioner Louie Mendoza. The risk of invasive species infestations is a threat to domstic agriculture.

The USDA this week issued a statement that it ” is aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China.”

It said the 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.

But so far, APHIS has not provided any information about what is contained in the seed packages and speculation is running wild.

The 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’s statement said. The USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents to determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.

The 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.

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