Frankfort, Kentucky — Agriculture officials in multiple states issued warnings Monday about unsolicited shipments of foreign seeds and advised people not to plant them. In Kentucky, the state agriculture department was notified that several residents received unsolicited seed packets sent by mail that appeared to have originated in China, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said.
The types of seeds are unknown and could be harmful, Quarles said, stressing that they should not be planted.
“We don’t know what they are, and we cannot risk any harm whatsoever to agricultural production in the United States,” he said. “We have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world and we need to keep it that way.”
Anyone in Kentucky receiving packages of foreign or unfamiliar seeds should contact the state agriculture department immediately, Quarles said.
“At this point in time, we don’t have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam or an act of agricultural bio-terrorism,” he said. “Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment.”
Residents of at least eight states have now received suspicious packages of seeds that appear to have originated from China, with officials in each urging people not to plant them, according to the Reuters news agency.
Reuters said the USDA had confirmed in a statement that it was working with the Department of Homeland Security and state officials to stop any illegal seeds entering the country and to protect American agriculture.
The agency was “aware that people across the country have received unsolicited packages of seed from China in recent days,” Reuters reported, quoting the statement.
In North Carolina, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it was contacted by numerous people who received seed shipments they did not order. The agency said the shipments were likely the product of an international internet scam known as “brushing.”
“According to the Better Business Bureau, foreign, third-party sellers use your address and Amazon information to generate a fake sale and positive review to boost their product ratings,” said Phil Wilson, director of the state’s Plant Industry Division.
New York Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball said in a statement Monday that his office had also fielded “a few” queries from residents who got unsolicited “packages allegedly sent from China that are marked as containing jewelry but which actually contain plant seeds.”
Ball confirmed that the USDA was investigating, and told residents not to handle or plant the seeds.
He said anyone who gets a packet of seeds “should store them safely in a place children and pets cannot access,” and then email the USDA immediately at email@example.com with their full names and phone numbers, pictures of the packaging, “and any other relevant information.”
Maryland agriculture officials confirmed in a tweet they were working with the USDA to investigate seeds sent to residents there.
Last week Virginia’s agriculture department issued a similar warning, again after “several” residents received the unsolicited seeds.
“The types of seeds in the packages are unknown at this time and may be invasive plant species. The packages were sent by mail and may have Chinese writing on them,” said the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, adding: “Please do not plant these seeds.”