Officials Issue Warnings as Americans Around the Country Receive Strange Shipments from China

The seeds of concern are sprouting across the United States as homeowners receive unsolicited packages from China.

“We don’t know what they are, and we cannot risk any harm whatsoever to agricultural production in the United States,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said, according to CBS. “We have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world and we need to keep it that way.”

Kentucky has been among the states whose residents have been targeted with the mystery packages of seeds.

“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,” Quarles said.

“Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment.”

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Kentucky is not alone.

Other states where residents have either received the packages or officials have issued warnings include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to The New York Times.

Add New Mexico to the list.

“As of right now we had roughly 30 reports come in, we’re still calling some folks back,” Katey Laney of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture said, according to KRQE-TV.

Do you think these seeds are dangrous?

“Their concerns are very similar to our concerns in that they don’t know what they have gotten, they are apprehensive to plant seeds that has no indication as to what it is… What we have seen is, they arrive in undisclosed packaging sometimes labeled as jewelry or electronic components,” Laney said, according to the station.

Some packages say “China Post” or have Chinese lettering. Others are labeled that they contained jewelry or other items.

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Michael Wallace, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told The New York Times that his department received “over 900 emails and several hundred telephone calls” from recipients of the packages.

“It’s a widespread issue,” he said.

Carolee Bull, who heads the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at Penn State University, told The Times that planting unidentified seeds is a bad idea

“The reason that people are concerned is — especially if the seed is the seed of a similar crop that is grown for income and food, or food for animals — that there may be plant pathogens or insects that are harbored in the seed,” she said.

According to The New York Times, Quarles, the Kentucky agriculture commissioner, had simple advice for anyone who does encounter the packages:

“Put the package and seeds in a zip lock bag and wash your hands immediately.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is so concerned about the growing trend that it posted a notice on its website saying that an investigation is underway and asking the public to alert authorities.

“USDA is aware that 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,” it said.

“USDA urges anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their State plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director. Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your State department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions. Do not plant seeds from unknown origins,” the notice said.

The USDA said the episode could be part of what it termed “a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.”

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