MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Kristy Ranieri didn’t open the small envelope with the Chinese return address at first because she thought it looked strange. It turns out she had good instincts.
“My husband saw it, and he opened it and saw the seeds inside,” said Ranieri. It was then the Maplewood resident remembered she had ordered seeds online when the shut down kept her from buying them in person. “I thought maybe these were just ones that took a long time to come… I swear I almost planted them.” She was going to toss the smaller-than-a-poppyseed sized seeds in an open spot in her garden hoping they were wildflowers but before she could get to it, she saw a post on Facebook warning people not to plant such packets of unsolicited seeds.
It is a situation that sounds like it could be an urban legend, but many Americans have received such seed packets. The United States Department of Agriculture website says:
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.
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.
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. 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.
USDA is committed to preventing the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protecting U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds. Visit the APHIS’ website to learn more about USDA’s efforts to stop agricultural smuggling and promote trade compliance.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture also has a post on the seeds with directions where to send photographs of the seed packet and envelope.
“Thank goodness for social media,” Ranieri said. A post in the “SOMA NJ Gardening” Facebook group revealed that several other local gardeners have received the packets as well. Their photos each show different varieties of seed.
Ranieri said she did “feel a little weird” that she had touched the packaging, but she set the seeds and envelope aside and washed her hands thoroughly. “I sent photos to APHIS,” she noted, “so hopefully we’ll see what that’s about.”
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