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Seeds from China likely a marketing scam

Unsolicited seeds shipped from China. (Washington State Department of Agriculture/Released)

The mystery seeds from China that have been showing up in mailboxes may not be such a mystery.

Officials from the USDA have been working with Homeland Security Customs and Border Patrol and continue to caution against handling the seeds.

But they have seen no evidence the unsolicited orders, which arrived in the mail by the thousands, pose a health or environmental risk.

“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,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “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.”

The agency’s main concern has been the potential for the seeds to introduce damaging pests or diseases that could harm U.S. agriculture.

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However, officials from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, late last week said they have identified 14 species of plants, including mustard, cabbage, flowers and herbs.

According to a statement from APHIS, “We are not aware of any human health risks at this time. In an abundance of caution, people should wear gloves and limit touching the material. People who believe they are experiencing a health issue as a result of touching these seeds should contact their medical provider.”

Anyone who receives unordered seeds in the mail from China should contact their state department of agriculture or call APHIS at 1-844-820-2234 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

At least 22 states, including Iowa and Illinois, have reported residential shipments of the seeds, which also have shown up in Canada and Europe.

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© 2020 Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus