Unsolicited Seeds from China Prompts Alert, Investigation

July 28, 2020, 3:54 PM HST · Updated July 28, 3:59 PM
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The US Department of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is investigating unsolicited seed packets that have been mailed to numerous individuals across the country, primarily from China. Since Saturday, the Hawai`i Department of Agriculture has received five reports of seed packets being received by Hawai`i residents and are in contact with those individuals to acquire the shipments.

Residents who receive unsolicited seed packets should keep the contents of the package, mailing envelope in its entirety, and any other contents that arrive with the shipment and contact the USDA-APHIS or their nearest HDOA Plant Quarantine office for further instructions. Do not open, throw away, or plant any of the seeds to help ensure that new invasive species are not introduced into the state.

Experts also advise washing hands if accidentally handling the seeds, as a precaution. Recipients should hold on to the seeds, and the original packaging, until someone from the state department of agriculture or APHIS contacts them. Under no circumstances should anyone plant the seeds.

USDA-Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Offices:

  • Oʻahu – (808) 834-3240
  • Mauʻi, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi – (808) 877-5261
  • Kona – (808) 326-1252
  • Hilo – (808) 933-9040
  • Kauaʻi – (808) 632-2505
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Hawai`i Department of Agriculture Plant Quarantine Office:

  • Oʻahu – (808) 832-0566 or (808) 837-8413
  • Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi – (808) 872-3848
  • Kona – (808) 326-1077
  • Hilo – (808) 961-9393
  • Kauaʻi – (808) 241-7135

Or call the State’s toll-free pest hotline at 643-PEST (7378)

USDA-APHIS, which is responsible for inspections of agricultural material imported from foreign countries, is working nationally with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and state agriculture officials to investigate the situation.

At this time, federal authorities do not have any evidence of nefarious activity connected to the seed packets but are testing the contents to determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.

HDOA is currently working with the USDA to ensure that all known shipments of unsolicited seeds in Hawai`i are recovered and handled appropriately.

BBB recommendations

The Better Business Bureau advises that receipt of such a package may be a sign that personal data has been compromised and recommend the following

  • Check your personal information. The package may be a sign that your personal data has been compromised. Keep a close eye on your credit report, bank accounts, and credit card bills. Looking up your name and address using a search engine can, in some cases, reveal how public your information has become.
  • Do not open the seed packet and avoid opening outer packaging or mailing materials, if possible.
  • Do not plant the seeds or discard them in the trash that will be landfilled.
  • Limit contact with the seed package until further guidance on handling, disposal, or collection is available from the USDA.

BBB recently reported on an increase in brushing scams affecting consumers. It is not known if this is a brushing scam. Questions regarding shipments of unsolicited merchandise should be directed to your local BBB or visit BBB.org.  Report possible scams to BBB Scam Tracker.

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