April 14, 2021

Did You Get Unsolicited Seed Packets in the Mail? The USDA Has Answers

Did you get unsolicited seed packets in the mail in the past few months? The USDA has some answers. The government received thousands of reports from people who got these packets and has completed a months-long investigation. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is providing guidance to help people, as well as those who buy plants and seeds online from other countries.

Did You Get Unsolicited Seed Packets in the Mail? The USDA Has Answers

U.S. consumers began receiving strange packets of seeds in the mail starting in July 2020. Some were sent to recipients unsolicited, but others were those people ordered, since they were unaware that they were coming from a foreign country. Most of these shipments are illegal since they came into the country without a permit or a phytosanitary certificate.

Plant Protection and Quarantine Program Deputy Administrator Dr. Osama El-Lissy said in a statement, “Plants and seeds for planting purchased online from other countries can pose a significant risk to U.S. agriculture and natural resources because they can carry harmful insects and pathogens. We’ve been working closely with e-commerce companies and other federal partners to stop the flow of illegal plant and seed shipments from entering the country. This new site is a big step forward in our efforts to facilitate the safe trade of plants and seeds through the e-commerce pathway.”

APHIS has found no evidence that someone was intentionally trying to harm U.S. agriculture with these seed shipments. Government officials think that these unsolicited packages are part of  a marketing effort, called an internet “brushing scam,” where companies ship inexpensive items to consumers to increase transactions. The more transactions a seller completes, the higher their rating, and the more likely their items will appear at top of search results on e-commerce sites.

If you get get unsolicited seed packets, don’t plant them. APHIS has been working with e-commerce companies to remove those online sellers who are trying to illegally import propagative materials, which include seeds. They are also making sure that sellers who use these platforms are complying with import regulations. And Dr. El-Lissy thanks the public for reporting the seeds and getting them to USDA officials for the investigation.

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