The US Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that people throughout the country have been receiving mysterious seed packages in the mail and warned Americans against planting seeds of “unknown origins.” Some Massachusetts and New Hampshire residents have also received the seeds, according to state officials.
In a statement, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said 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.”
According to the statement, anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds should immediately contact state plant regulatory officials. The statement advised people to hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until state officials contact them with instructions.
“Do not plant seeds from unknown origins,” the statement said. “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.”
In a separate statement Tuesday, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources said it’s been notified that several state residents have received the unsolicited packages.
“While the exact types of seeds in the packages are unknown, the seeds are thought to be invasive plant species, and not believed to be harmful to humans or pets but could pose a significant risk to agriculture or the environment,” the statement said.
Massachusetts officials urged anyone who receives a package to not plant the seeds and immediately fill out a form on the agricultural resources department website to provide “important information” to the state.
“While the seeds are not expected to be harmful to humans or pets, they could pose a risk to agriculture,” the form says in part. “Please do not plant or dispose of the seeds.Hold on to the seeds and all packaging (including the mailing label), and someone from either USDA or MDAR will be in touch, once we have determined how to facilitate collection and/or disposal of the seeds.”
The USDA said it’s currently collecting seed packages and will test the contents to determine if they contain anything that could be concerning to the nation’s agriculture or the environment.
The agency, the statement said, remains “committed to preventing the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protecting U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds.”
The New York Times reported that residents of at least 27 states have received unwanted seed packages.
Meanwhile the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food confirmed Monday that residents in that state had received unwanted seeds as well.
“Several NH residents have recently reported receiving packages of seeds in the mail that they did not order,” the department said in a statement posted to its official Facebook page. “Often the packages come with a return address from China, or are misidentified as containing other small items. This has occurred in other states as well and appears to be part of a scam known as ‘brushing.' Be aware that seeds are highly regulated to protect plant health.”
The department advised New Hampshire residents who receive the seeds to refrain from planting them and to contact the agency.
“Oh that’s somewhat unnerving,” one woman wrote in response to the Facebook posting from New Hampshire officials. “I hope everyone is smart [enough] not to plant them.”