Packages of mystery seeds from foreign countries have been showing up in the mailboxes of residents throughout the country, including some in Skagit County, and agricultural officials are asking recipients to not plant them and instead turn them in for investigation.
The USDA is collecting the unsolicited seeds to test if they could be harmful to U.S. agriculture or the environment, according to a Wednesday news release from the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Officials suspect the suspicious seeds were sent to the country illegally through agricultural smuggling, where packages are mislabeled to avoid import regulations that are designed to protect U.S. agriculture from pests and disease, according to the state agriculture department.
The state agriculture department first learned of local seed shipments on Friday when two residents reported receiving seeds they did not order. The unidentified seeds were mailed in packages labeled to contain jewelry from an address in China, according to the state agriculture department. In other cases, residents have reported receiving the mystery seeds after placing an order with an online retailer for seeds they believed to be coming from within the United States.
The state has received more than 100 reports from residents receiving unsolicited seeds in the mail from China, state agriculture department spokesperson Chris McGann said Wednesday.
A few have reported receiving seeds from countries other than China, as well.
The state agriculture department initially asked residents to seal the seeds and dispose of them, but as of Wednesday, requests that the public mail the seeds with their packaging to the United States Department of Agriculture for investigation.
Don McMoran, director of the Washington State University Skagit County Extension, said he has received about 10 calls since Monday about packages of mystery seeds. He said a Mount Vernon man he spoke with Wednesday said he received a package of seeds from China and provided a photo showing three packets, one labeled “ornamental pumpkin” and another “red romaine lettuce.” A third packet is unlabeled, according to the photo.
McMoran said seeds that are not tested for disease before entering the country could potentially harm commercially grown crops in Skagit County.
“At this time, USDA does not 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,” the news release states.
However, those who believe they have received the mystery seeds should place them and their packaging in a plastic bag, put the bag in a mailing envelope, and send to:
USDA-APHIS-PPQ – Attn: Jason Allen
Seattle Plant Inspection Station
835 South 192nd Street, Bldg D, Ste 1600
Seatac, WA 98148