Source: FDACS News Release July 28, 2020
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is continuing to warn Floridians about unsolicited packages of seeds received through the mail. The seed packets, which may arrive unexpectedly in packages bearing Chinese characters, may bear the name China Post, and may be labeled as jewelry, have been reported in multiple states including Virginia, Kansas, Washington, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, and others.
As of July 28, FDACS has received at least 631 reports from Florida residents reporting having received suspicious seed packages. The content of the seed packages remains unknown at this time, until testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) takes place.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the lead regulatory body on this matter, issued guidance. The USDA believes the seeds to be part of a “brushing” scam, where unsolicited items are sent in order to post false customer reviews and boost online sales. Upon receiving seed packages from recipients, the USDA will test the contents to determine if a risk is posed to agriculture or the environment.
The introduction of plant seeds into the United States is tightly regulated by the USDA. Seeds of unknown origin may constitute agricultural smuggling, may be invasive, may introduce pathogens, toxins, or plant and animal diseases, may pose a risk of foodborne illness, and may pose a threat to plant and animal health. FDACS is continuing to work closely to receive additional guidance from the USDA and APHIS, in consultation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“Plant seeds from unknown sources may introduce dangerous pathogens, diseases, or invasive species into Florida, putting agriculture and our state’s plant, animal, and human health at risk,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “Anyone receiving these suspicious seed packets should not plant them, but should report it to our department immediately, so that our inspectors can safely collect them for analysis.”
What To Do:
Anyone receiving unsolicited seed packages or other items in the mail from other countries should follow these directions:
Report the seed package to the FDACS Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517 or DPIhelpline@FDACS.gov
Do not open the seed packet and avoid damaging outer packaging or mailing materials
Place the seed packet AND mailing materials into a sealable plastic bag – this is important to determining the origin of the seeds. Take the plastic bag to your local Extension Office for collection by a representative of the Division of Plant Industry. Include the FDACS Suspicious Seeds reporting form, so officials can track where the seeds were shipped.
Do not plant the seeds or discard them in trash that will end up at a landfill
Packages containing other non-agricultural items (cheap jewelry or other items) should be maintained by the homeowner and they in turn should contact USDA APHIS Anti-Smuggling hotline at 1-800-877-3835 or SITC.firstname.lastname@example.org