Hundreds of Americans, possibly thousands, planted Chinese mystery seeds received in the mail this summer, Vice News revealed via FOIA-requested information on Tuesday. Some recipients reportedly told state government authorities that they ate the seeds.
Tens of thousands of U.S. residents from all 50 states received unsolicited seeds from China in the mail in July. The phenomenon prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue warnings starting in late July urging Americans not to plant or consume the seeds, but instead to “immediately contact their state plant regulatory official” and to mail the seeds to the USDA or state officials. Many people ignored the warnings, according to a report by Vice News on Monday.
“Some people ate the seeds,” according to documents from state departments of agriculture obtained by Vice. “Planted one pack and ate the oregano that grew,” said one resident of an unspecified state.
“[A]t least hundreds, perhaps thousands of Americans planted the [Chinese mystery] seeds,” the documents reveal. Some people panicked and “called 911” upon receiving the suspicious mailings.
“Some states, like North Carolina, had more than 1,000 people contact the department of agriculture having received unsolicited seeds. Others, like New Mexico, had roughly 100 recorded seed receivers,” according to the report.
The state of Michigan compiled a spreadsheet showing “677 people filed official complaints with the state about the receipt of unsolicited seeds; 30 reported planting them. ‘I planted them in my hydroponic system in my home, I thought they were the strawberry seeds I ordered from Amazon’,” one Michigan resident said.
“They turned Black and green mold so I threw them away. … If I had known these seeds were going to originate from China, I would not have purchased them from Amazon. I am still waiting on at least four other orders of seeds. Will burn them if they come,” the resident added.
In North Carolina, state agriculture documents reveal that about 60 people planted the seeds out of the nearly 1,300 people who reported receiving the mailings. As in most states, New Mexico agriculture officials seemed unsure how to handle reports of the seed plantings at first.
“I need your guidance for this one since they’re planted, and spreading,” one state department of agriculture employee wrote to another, according to the documents.
In one exchange from New Hampshire, “a state entomologist and a plant health director discuss how they should categorize and respond to a person who said they had eaten the seeds,” according to the report. “I’m adding them to my database. Of course, there doesn’t yet exist field to indicate that someone ATE the seeds,” the plant health director wrote.
“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales. USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment,” reads a current message on the USDA’s official webpage dedicated to “Unsolicited Seeds from China.” The investigation remains ongoing.