Agricultural officials in several US states issued warnings this week about unwanted shipments of foreign seeds and advised people not to plant them.
Residents of more than a dozen states recently reported receiving packets of seeds they had not ordered that were sent by mail from China.
The US Department of Agriculture said it is working with Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and the State Department to investigate the situation.
The department is urging US residents to report suspicious packages and not plant seeds. But this is “no evidence indicating that this is anything other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unwanted items from a seller who posts false customer reviews to boost sales”.
In Kentucky, the state’s Department of Agriculture was informed that many residents had received packages, said Commissioner of Agriculture, Ryan Quarles.
“We don’t know what they are, and we can’t do any harm to agricultural production in the United States,” he said. “We have the safest, abundant food supply in the world and we need to maintain it that way.”
“At this time, we don’t have enough information to know whether this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam or an act of agricultural bioterrorism,” Quarles said. “Unsolicited seeds can become invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment.”
In North Carolina, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it was contacted by several people who had received seed shipments that they had not ordered. The agency said the shipment was likely a product of ‘brushing’.
Phil Wilson, director of the state’s plant industry division, said, “According to the Better Business Bureau, foreign, third-party vendors use their addresses and Amazon information to counterfeit sales and positive reviews.”
And Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner, Nikki Fried, said Twitter said on Tuesday that the state received more than 600 reports of suspected seed packages.