Dept. of Agriculture responds to mystery seed mailers

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Minnesotans and thousands of others across the country have discovered small packets of seeds in their mailboxes, eliciting concerns over how these unwanted packages arrived from China and neighboring Kyrgyzstan. While recipients were flummoxed by the mystery mailers, MAPE members at the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture (MDA) were responding to reports from callers about the packages; giving instructions on how to send the seeds to MDA or dispose of plants that may have grown from planted seeds.

Members are also working to create and implement processes for managing and analyzing the data that has been collected, as well as systems to better collect additional data,” said Allen Sommerfeld, MDA Communications, and member of Local 901. “MAPE members will also be tracking and analyzing the seed that is received so we identify what types are present before the seeds are turned over to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for final determinations and destruction.”

If you receive a packet of mystery seeds, don’t plant them or throw them away. Email so the USDA can collect the seed packages and test their contents to determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.

The department said in a statement Friday that it has identified some of the seeds as cosmos, radish, mung bean, juniper, basil, cucurbit, and zinnia. While these are not seeds from invasive plants the MDA is concerned the seeds could be an invasive species that, if planted, could threaten Minnesota’s agriculture and horticulture sectors.

All seed that is sold in Minnesota must be properly labeled, and MAPE employees working in the Plant Protection Division ensure that seed sold meets the requirements of the Minnesota Seed Law and the Federal Seed Act, Sommerfeld said.

It is presumed the mailings are part of what’s called a “brushing” scam, where a third-party seller finds addresses online and sends an unsolicited item, using the tracking information for the package – in this instance, seeds – as evidence to write a verified buyer’s positive product review.

Sommerfeld said this is the first time the MDA has seen a brushing scam.

As of Friday, more than 700 Minnesotans had contacted the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Arrest the Pest Line at 1-888-545-6684 to report they had received packages of seeds.