Your mailbox acts as a repository of unwanted material: credit card offers, nasty campaign brochures and catalogs for retailers that you haven’t done business with in years.
Now add another unwanted item waiting in your mailbox. Seeds.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued warnings this week about unsolicited seeds arriving from a foreign source, possibly China or other East Asian nations. Right now, it is unclear who is sending the packages.
Agriculture officials in at least eight states, including Missouri and Kansas, have reported residents receiving seeds in the mail from a source that the recipient doesn’t know. Similar mystery seeds have been reported in Britain and Canada.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture is clear in its guidance: If you receive mystery seeds, do not open the envelope, do not plant the seeds and do not dispose of them until contacting the USDA. If you open the envelope, which is often labeled as containing jewelry, put the seeds in a sealed bag and contact the Missouri Department of Agriculture at 573-751-2462 or email@example.com.
It is unknown at this point whether these seed deliveries are an act of bioterrorism, a hoax or some sort of scam. In North Carolina, state agriculture officials note that foreign, third-party sellers sometime use a person’s address and Amazon information to generate a fake sale. The goal, apparently, is for positive reviews to boost their product ratings. Some state officials refer to it as a form of agricultural smuggling.
Even if it is a hoax or a marketing ploy, it’s something that could cause considerable damage. The seeds could harm the environment, crops or native plants. Seeds and plants that are shipped to the United States from other countries are heavily regulated by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“It is important to take steps to prevent the introduction of invasive species into Missouri and ensure safety of the environment, livestock and plants,” the Missouri Department of Agriculture noted in a release. “The seeds could be an invasive species that has the potential to destroy native plants and damage crops. Invasive species may be harmful to livestock.”
At the federal level, a thorough investigation is needed to resolve a mystery that’s unnerving at best and could do real damage, regardless of intent. The general public, which has become hardened to the latest scam to watch out for on phone, email, social media or regular mail, has a role to play in all of this.
If you didn’t order it, don’t plant it. It’s 2020, what else could go wrong? Apparently, plenty.