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Montana Ag Network: Mystery seeds arriving in mailboxes from China

Posted at 7:26 AM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 09:26:26-04

Some 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.

The Montana Department of Agriculture confirmed on Monday afternoon that 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.

Ag Sciences Division Administrator Ian Foley says it's unclear at this point if the unknown seeds are 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," he added. "We wouldn't want them to end up in a landfill and grow somewhere in Montana.”

If you received a package of seed, you are encouraged to contact the Montana Department of Agriculture.

“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 at (406) 444-3950 or report it by email bballensky@mt.gov.