Unsolicited seed prompts U.S., CFIA warnings

Reuters – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is warning Americans not to plant unsolicited packages of seeds that appear to be arriving from China.

States stretching from Washington to Virginia have also told residents not to put the seeds in the ground, after they arrived in the mailboxes of people who did not order them. Officials said the seeds could grow invasive species that threaten crops or livestock.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) also released a statement warning Canadians to be wary of unsolicited seed. The agency said it was also investigating reports of people receiving seed, although it did not speculate on the origin of those packages.

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“Do not plant seeds from unknown origins,” the agency has urged Canadians. “Unauthorized seeds could be the seeds of invasive plants, or carry plant pests, which can be harmful when introduced into Canada. These species can invade agricultural and natural areas, causing serious damage to our plant resources.”

The USDA said in late July that it was collecting the seeds and would test them to determine if they were a concern to agriculture or the environment. The agency is working with states and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection to investigate the packages, according to a statement.

The USDA said it had no evidence the shipments are something other than a “brushing scam,” in which people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.

The packages, “appear to be coming from China,” according to the USDA.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated this year to what experts say is their lowest level in decades over issues ranging from trade and technology to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China’s postal service strictly abides by restrictions on sending seeds.

Records on the packages appear to have been falsified, according to checks by China’s postal service, which has asked for them to be sent to China for investigation, he said at a daily news briefing.

U.S. states, including Washington and Alabama, labelled the shipments as “agricultural smuggling.” Photos distributed by state agriculture departments show seeds of different sizes, shapes and colours in white or yellow envelopes.

State officials said some packages were labelled as jewelry and may have contained Chinese writing. They asked recipients to keep the seeds in sealed plastic bags until authorities collect them.

The CFIA has also asked any Canadians who receive unordered seed to contact their local CFIA office immediately and to keep any seeds, packaging and labelling.

– With staff files

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