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USDA botanist inspecting unsolicited seeds

Update on unexpected Seeds from Foreign Countries

unsolicited seeds which came into IRC EOC recently

some unsolicited seeds received by IRC Extension. Photo by C. Kelly-Begazo, IRC Extension Director, Agriculture Agent III

By Yvonne Florian and Christine Kelly-Begazo

Recently, many people in the United States have been receiving unsolicited packages from China, and other countries, which contain seeds, beads, jewelry, or other small items which had not been ordered.  The packages come with no label indicating what is in the envelope.  This is a major concern, especially for our agricultural industry.  Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) states that “Seeds of unknown origin may constitute agricultural smuggling, may be invasive, may introduce pathogens, toxins, or plant and animal diseases, may pose a risk of foodborne illness, and may pose a threat to plant and animal health“.

A USDA, APHIS, NIS botanist examines seeds

A USDA, APHIS, NIS botanist examines seeds from an unsolicited package of seeds under a microscope. USDA photo.

You may ask yourself, “Why would anyone on the other side of the world send me seeds which I did not ask or pay for?”  I mean, it must cost quite a bit of money to bundle them up, put them in a mailer bag, print a label, and pay for postage to get the parcels from that country to my door, right?  Have you ever mailed something to another country?  It is expensive and there are LOADS of customs forms to fill out.  I do not imagine mailing multiple packages from China is any easier or cheaper.  So, it is someone with money, time, and a specific reason for doing this.  

unsolicited seed packet

A packet of unsolicited seeds collected by IRC Extension office. Photo by C. Kelly-Begazo, IRC Extension Director, Agriculture Agent III

How did they get my address?  Are the seeds contaminated?  Is this a terrorist plot to cover the world with invasive, man-eating toxic plants?  My imagination immediately came up with numerous fictional scenarios, as I am sure the minds at the United States Department of Agriculture‘s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), National Identification Services (NIS) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Plant Industry (DPI) were likewise envisioning.

Just a few of my quirky, imaginary reasons for the packages:
  • Chinese seed chain letter?
  • A superstitious good-will gesture to end a bad luck streak?
  • Marketing scheme to drum up positive internet reviews, often referred to as a “Brushing Scam”?
  • Plan to take over the world with cheap stuff and put American companies out of business?
  • Someone with big bucks is playing a huge practical joke on our agricultural and plant import inspections services.

Okay, enough goofing around.  This really could be a serious invasive plant or plant disease problem for our country and particularly for Florida.  Undocumented, uninspected plant material brought into the United States illegally is how we sometimes end up with new pests and diseases that wreak havoc on our agricultural industries.

USDA botanist

A USDA, APHIS, botanist examines unsolicited seeds sent from overseas to U.S. residents.

FDACS is collecting as many of these unsolicited seed packages as possible to determine whether they represent a threat to the U.S. and Florida’s agriculture or environment.  They are asking anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to go to the FDACS wepage, review the “question and answer” document, and support their collection efforts.  You can also contact the FDACS DPI at (888) 397-1517 or DPIhelpline@FDACS.gov.  After reporting the seed package, an inspector will contact you to schedule a safe, contact-free collection of all seeds, packaging, and mailing materials.  You can also contact the Indian River County Extension office at (772)225-4330 for more information and to drop off your seed package if you don’t want to mail it.

What should you do if you get an unsolicited seed package?

As of September 2, 2020, FCACS has issued a simplified reporting website.  According to FDACS, you now can choose to report the seeds or dispose of them in a prescribed manner listed in the directions on the FDACS website. It is still very important to NOT OPEN the seed packet whether you choose to report or to dispose of the seeds.

To Dispose of the Seeds

According to FDACS, to dispose of the seeds yourself there are five things you should do.

  1. Do not open the seed packet.
  2. Completely wrap and enclose the packet with duct tape.
  3. Double bag the wrapped seed packet in zip-top plastic bags, squeezing out any air, and seal tightly.
  4. Completely cover the folded bag again with duct tape.  This will help prevent the bag from bursting and will keep water and sun from reaching the seeds.
  5. Discard in the trash.
Complete Destruction Option

For seeds and plants already planted, FDACS offers a “Complete Destruction” option on their website as well.  Here’s what they recommend:

  1. Do Not compost the plants or seeds!
  2. Remove plants, including soil (at least 3 inches of surrounding soil if planted in the ground).  If potted, dispose of the empty pot/container in 2 trash bags, squeezing out air and tying off each bag.  If you wish to keep the container, remove as much soil as possible and wash the container with soap and water, discarding the run-off down the drain or flush down the toilet. Soak the cleaned container in a 10% bleach solution for 30 minutes, rinse, and dry.
  3. Double bag the plants and soil in sealable, zip-top, plastic bags, squeezing out any air, and seal tightly.
  4. Discard in trash.
To Report Unsolicited Seeds

To report unsolicited seeds, the directions are pretty much the same as this past month.

  • Place everything, (seeds, all packaging, including the mailing label it came with) in a sealable zip-top bag.  Place this bag in a mailing envelope.  Please include your name, address, and phone number so that the State or Federal agriculture official can contact you for additional information if necessary.
  • Send seeds to: USDA APHIS PPQ, 3951 Centerport ST, Orlando, FL 32827

To visit the FDACS website and get all the latest information on what to do with unsolicited seeds, please visit their website here: https://www.fdacs.gov/Divisions-Offices/Plant-Industry/Consumer-Resources/Unsolicited-Seed-by-Mail.

Unopened packages and packages containing other non-agricultural items should be maintained by the homeowner and they should contact the USDA APHIS Anti-Smuggling hotline at 1-800-877-3835 or SITC.mail@aphis.usda.gov.