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Montana Ag Network: Mystery seeds from China are arriving in Montana mailboxes

Mysterious seeds sent from China to U.S. mailboxes
Posted at 7:31 AM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 09:48:06-04

People in Montana and across the nation say they have been receiving mysterious packages in the mail from China over the last few weeks. The content of the packages is found to contain unknown plant seeds. As of Monday afternoon, the Montana Department of Agriculture confirmed at least five Montana residents reported to have received unsolicited packages of seed.

Receiving unwanted or contaminated seed is against the law in Montana as it violates the Montana Agricultural Seed Act. The act protects consumers from receiving poor quality, contaminated or unwanted seed. Unknown plant seed also creates the risk of introducing noxious weeds into the environment.

Ian Foley is the Ag Sciences Division Administrator at the Montana Department of Agriculture, and says that unknown seed is a threat to Montana’s wide-open spaces.

“Unknown seeds represent a risk to agriculture, to horticultural plants and native species because we don't know anything about those seeds,” said Foley. “They could have unknown plant pathogens. They could have unknown viruses. So, we definitely wouldn't want to plant any of those seeds in the ground and we wouldn't really want even throw those seeds away. We wouldn't want them to end up in a landfill and grow somewhere in Montana.”

If you receive a package of seed, you are encouraged to contact the Montana Department of Agriculture. They ask that you DO NOT open the seed package, or plant the seeds. It is also important that you do not throw the seeds away. The types of seeds sent in these packages have not been identified yet. Other states have also reported having received similar unsolicited packages through the mail. These unsolicited seeds could be invasive, meaning they may have the potential to introduce diseases to local plants, or could be harmful to livestock. Instead, please hold on to the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label.

MDA is awaiting official guidance from the USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service on how to proceed with safe disposal of the mailed materials. This guidance will be shared on the department website at [] as soon as it is available.

“If we have the packaging information that came with the seeds, we can work with our USDA partners to analyze the pathway of where the seeds are coming from,” explained Foley. “How those unknowing customers are being identified. It’s important to get those seeds identified and then also have the packaging of anyone's receiving unsolicited seed shipments in Montana.”

In addition to natural resource worries, the department said there is also concern for possible identity theft. This can be considered a brushing scam, a deceitful e-commerce technique where a vendor sends an unsolicited product to a verified address. They do this to submit positive online reviews unbeknownst to the receiver.

MDA is awaiting official guidance from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on how to proceed with safe disposal of the mailed materials. Individuals are urged to contact the department if they receive a package of unsolicited seed. Please contact the Seed Program at 406-444-3950 or report it by email