People across the world are continuing to receive unsolicited packages of seeds that appear to be coming mainly from China.

The United States, Canada, India, Israel, Poland, Japan, Ireland, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and France are some of the countries affected.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, FBI, and state departments of agriculture are investigating. The main concern is the potential for the seeds to introduce damaging pests or diseases that could harm U.S. agriculture.

Identified seeds so far
“We are not aware of any human health risks at this time. In an abundance of caution, people should wear gloves and limit touching the material. People who believe they are experiencing a health issue as a result of touching these seeds should contact their medical provider,” said USDA officials.

Authorities have also recommended that people who handled the seeds should thoroughly wash their hands and disinfect any object that came into contact with them.

Picture courtesy of Surrey Police in England

Based on preliminary analysis of samples collected, the seed packets appear to be a mix of ornamental, fruit and vegetable, herb, and weed species.

While the exact number of seed packages that have entered the country is unknown, reports have been received from all 50 states.

Officials believe it is an internet “brushing scam,” where sellers send unsolicited items to unsuspecting consumers and then post false reviews to boost sales. Recipients seem to be people who recently purchased something online or who have bought seeds in the past.

The source of seed packages has not been identified and while they appear to be coming from China there have been reports of packs from countries including Taiwan and Singapore.

Declared as toys or jewelry
As of early August, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) had received reports from more than 750 individuals across all provinces who had received unrequested packages of unknown seeds.

Packages are postmarked as being from several different countries and many are declared as toys or jewelry. Based on visual inspections carried out to date, the seeds appear to be low risk.

Seeds are from plant species, including tomato, strawberry, rose and citrus, as well as some weed seeds common in Canada such as shepherd’s purse and flixweed.

The UK Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) told people who received seeds by post that they should not plant or compost them as it is possible they could be carrying plant pests or diseases that are a risk to crops or the environment.

APHA is testing seed samples and investigating if it is a brushing scam. However, the problem is that items enter the country labeled as something else and are not declared as seeds so do not go through the relevant plant health and customs checks that apply to imported plant material.

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