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USDA: Unsolicited, mysterious seeds from China likely part of 'brushing' scam

Big Bend residents report receiving unsolicited, mysterious seeds from China
Posted at 3:46 PM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 15:48:35-04

(WTXL) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued new guidance after hundreds of people around the nation received mysterious seeds from China in their mailboxes.

Per their new guidance, the USDA believes the seeds to be part of a “brushing” scam.

"At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales," officials wrote in a release. "USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment."

Right now, the USDA is telling recipients not to throw out the packages. Instead, you should 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.

U.S. residents are warned not to plant seeds from unknown origins.

Upon receiving seed packages from recipients, the USDA will test the contents to determine if a risk is posed to agriculture or the environment.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services FDACS - Division of Plant Industry (DPI), this is a developing situation in Florida and other states.

Several reports have also come in from around the Big Bend about packages shipped from China containing unidentified seeds.

FDACS says reports from Florida residents quadrupled overnight, with at least 631 Florida residents reporting having received suspicious seed packages as of July 28. The content of the seed packages remains unknown at this time, until testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) takes place.

Anyone in Florida receiving unsolicited seed packages from other countries should follow these directions:

  • Do not open the seed packet and avoid opening outer packaging or mailing materials, if possible
  • Place the seed packet AND mailing materials into a sealable plastic bag – this is important to determining the origin of the seeds
  • Do not plant the seeds or discard them in trash that will be landfilled
  • Report the seed package to the FDACS Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517 or DPIhelpline@FDACS.gov
  • After reporting the seed package, an Inspector from the FDACS Division of Plant Industry will contact seed recipients to schedule a safe, contactless collection of the seeds, packaging, and mailing materials

The Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) has also been notified that several Georgia residents have received unsolicited packages containing seeds that appear to have originated from China.

"At this time, we are not sure what the seeds are and therefore are urging everyone to be exceedingly vigilant," Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black said. "If you have received one of these packages in the mail, please use extreme caution by not touching the contents and securing the package in a plastic bag."

If you live in Georgia and receive unsolicited seeds in the mail from China or any other country, contact the GDA Seed Lab at 229-386-3145 or email SeedLab@agr.georgia.gov