TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services officials are warning residents about suspicious seed packets that some Floridians are receiving unexpectedly through the mail, according to a news release.
The surprise shipments, which may bear the name China Post and could be disguised as jewelry, have been reported in several other states, including Virginia, Kansas, Washington, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Utah and are believed to be part of an online scam, according to Florida agriculture officials.
As of Tuesday, the FDACS had received more than 630 reports from Floridians who said they’d received the suspicious seed packages. The content of the packages could not be confirmed until tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried issued her first warning related to the packages on Monday, saying the introduction of plant seeds in the U.S. is regulated by the USDA and that planting unknown seeds can bring about a number of issues as they may be invasive and could introduce pathogens, toxins or plant and animal diseases. The unknown seeds could also pose a risk of foodborne illness or threats to plant, animal and human health, the release said.
“Plant seeds from unknown sources may introduce dangerous pathogens, diseases, or invasive species into Florida, putting agriculture and our state’s plant, animal, and human health at risk,” Fried said. “Anyone receiving these suspicious seed packets should not plant them, but should report it to our department immediately, so that our inspectors can safely collect them for analysis.”
Fried warned that the unknown seeds could also constitute agricultural smuggling and said the FDACS is working closely to receive guidance from the USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the lead regulatory body on the issue, in consultation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In an update on Tuesday, Fried’s office said the APHIS had issued guidance about the seed packages, saying the USDA believes they are part of a “brushing” scam, where unsolicited items are sent in order to post false customer reviews and boost online sales.
Here’s what you should do if you receive the unsolicited seed packages, according to the FDACS:
- 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.
When reporting the packages, Floridians should be prepared to provide their name, address, phone number and email address for contact purposes, FDACS officials said.
Officials with Fried’s office said that after reporting the seed package, an inspector from the FDACS Division of Plant Industry will contact recipients to schedule a safe, contactless collection of the seeds, packaging and mailing materials.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles recently issued a warning about the seeds after residents in his state reported receiving similar packages.
“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 bioterrorism,” Quarles said.
Quarles encouraged residents who received the seeds to put them in an airtight bag immediately and contact state agriculture officials.
“We do not know what they are and we cannot risk any harm whatsoever to agricultural production in the United States,” Quarles said. “We have the safest, most abundant food supply system in the world and we need to keep it that way.”