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mystery 98 seeds

Mystery Seeds From China

Mystery Seeds From China refers reports that United States citizens receiving unsolicited packages from China containing unknown seeds. While some expressed concerns about the motives behind the packages, officials believe that it may be part of a “brushing scam” in which a merchant sends unordered, low-value items and publishes reviews under the recipient’s name. These reviews give the merchant a boost in search algorithms, like those found on Amazon.com.

Background

In July 2020, some Americans began reporting unsolicited deliveries of seeds in parcels with postmarks from China. On July 24th, 2020, the verified Washington State Department of Agriculture Facebook [1] published a warning about the seeds. They wrote, “Today we received reports of people receiving seeds in the mail from China that they did not order. The seeds are sent in packages usually stating that the contents are jewelry. Unsolicited seeds could be invasive, introduce diseases to local plants, or be harmful to livestock.” The post received more than 661,000 shares, 25,000 reactions and 21,000 comments in less than one week (shown below).

That day, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services [3] published a statement on the seeds. They wrote:

Please do not plant these seeds. VDACS encourages Virginia residents who have received unsolicited seeds in the mail that appear to have Chinese origin to contact the Office of Plant Industry Services (OPIS) by submitting a report to the Unsolicited Seed Package Reporting Tool or to the [email protected] email.

Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops. Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations.

Residents in the United Kingdom also reported that they had received seeds from China. [2]

Developments

Online Reaction

On July 25th, 2020, the fact-checking website Snopes [4] rated the reports as “mixed.” While they confirmed the accounts of people receiving the seeds, they said, “The precise motive behind these mailings, and whether or not it is a malicious one, is not yet known.”

Online, people discussed the seeds. On July 26th, the Instagram [6] page @saycheesetv published a post about the seeds and received more than 11,000 likes in less than one week (shown below, left).

Some online joked about the seeds. On July 30th, Facebook [5] group OldtimersPage posted a picture of the monstrous plant from the film Little Shop of Horrors with the caption, “When you plant those seeds from China.” The post received more than 18,000 shares,16,000 reactions and 1,000 comments in less than 24 hours (shown below, right).

Bushing Scam

Some officials believe that the seeds are part of a “brushing scam.” On July 30th, Fortune [7] wrote:

The USDA and FBI are still investigating the packages–which reportedly include seeds for grass, cucumbers, and melon–but the growing consensus among law enforcement is that they are part of a “brushing” scam.

Brushing is a shady way to boost the popularity of an online merchant by sending out unsolicited packages containing items of little value. The merchant–or more commonly a “brusher” middleman who they pay–writes positive reviews using the names of the recipients.

The goal is to appear higher in the search rankings of online platforms like Amazon.

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Do not plant mystery seeds

States across the nation are trying to discover the origin and contents of mystery seeds arriving as packages in the mail.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture became aware of seed packages received in other states late Friday and started receiving local reports Monday morning, according to Denise Thiede. Thiede oversees the seed, noxious weed, hemp, and biotech programs at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Although many reports said the seeds came from China, she saw several different countries labeled on various packages that were described as containing jewelry or other small items, not seeds.

Thiede said Tuesday the Minnesota Department of agriculture had more than 200 reports in the state of unsolicited seeds.

“The scale of this situation is what is really surprising,” she said. “There are two different scenarios that were hearing,” Thiede said. “One is that no one had placed an order for seed, and they just got the package unsolicited. The second story that we’re hearing is that the person placed an order for seed and never got the order fulfilled. Then weeks to months later, ended up getting this seed shipment, but obviously the seed was not identified in any way to show that it was the seed that they ordered.”

For instance, one person ordered tulip bulbs but received seeds instead. All foreign seeds shipped to the United States should have a phytosanitary certificate that means the seeds meet important requirements. Thiede said these seeds were not truthfully labeled in a way required by law. A key concern is that these unsolicited seeds could be invasive species, contain noxious weeds, introduce diseases to local plants, or be harmful to livestock.

Unfortunately, some people planted the seeds before realizing the possible impacts. Thiede said in most cases, the plants did not germinate.

“There are still risks there because seeds can live in the soil for a long time,” she said. “Even if they didn’t germinate now, they could potentially germinate at a later point in time.”

Anyone who did plant the seeds is asked to destroy anything that grew and try to remove the seeds. Thiede also recommended monitoring the area for a couple of years to make sure nothing unusual comes from the soil.

“We want to protect agriculture,” Thiede said. “We definitely don’t want this seed to get planted. We’ve learned this lesson many times, and painfully. You introduce something new that is not native and has novel characteristics that can allow the plant to become a difficult pest. We don’t want farmers having to deal with weeds that they can’t control. Likewise, we value our natural lands and all the wild places in Minnesota. We don’t want something that could possibly out-compete some of our important, native species.”

Customs, border patrol, and even post office inspectors have been able to identify some of the seed packaging based on photos released. Those officials have been working to intercept the packages as they come into the country.

The USDA and state departments of agriculture have been trying to identify the types of seeds, but there is a variety, and many have not received physical packages to more closely examine the contents yet. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture asks anyone who receives the seeds to not throw away the package or contents, not plant the seeds, and contact Arrest the Pest line at 1-888-545-6684 or email [email protected] with a name, contact information, and the date the package was received. Officials are coordinating shipping and package the contents to the MDA Seed Program.

County agriculture inspectors may be mobilized to help collect seeds and control the issue.