Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (COA) published a warning Tuesday about mysterious packages of soil or seeds arriving from an unknown sender in China, similar to a warning issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about mystery seeds turning up in American mailboxes.
Focus Taiwan reported on a Facebook post from a Taiwanese woman who said she received a package in early July ostensibly containing “potting soil” sent by parties unknown in Shanghai.
The woman said the delivery service, Taiwan’s anti-fraud hotline, and several government agencies were unable to determine the source of the package, although testing performed by COA’s animal and plant inspection bureau determined that it did indeed contain a sample of ordinary soil.
COA officials asked other Taiwanese citizens who receive unsolicited packages of soil and seeds from China to be careful with them, as they could contain dangerous insects, parasites, or fungi. People who receive such packages were urged to contact the COA immediately.
In the United States, residents of all 50 states have now reported receiving suspicious packets of seeds from China in the mail. Tests are now underway on several packages turned over to the authorities. Some of the packages were labeled as other items, such as “jewelry,” but proved to contain only a handful of seeds.
The USDA posted a warning that recipients should not “plant seeds from unknown origins,” as they could be invasive plant species capable of damaging local plants and insects.
#APHIS is working closely with @CBP and State Depts of Ag re: unrequested seeds. If received, pls contact State Dept of Ag https://t.co/g0WhR57Wv3 or the #APHIS State Plant Health Office https://t.co/CdHtWghDbC. Keep packaging and do not plant seeds from an unknown origin! pic.twitter.com/LORKeTh4Tc
— USDA APHIS (@USDA_APHIS) July 27, 2020
“We don’t know what they are, and we cannot risk any harm whatsoever to agricultural production in the United States. We have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world and we need to keep it that way,” said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
“At this point in time, we don’t have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam or an act of agricultural bio-terrorism. Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment,” he said.
One of the less sinister explanations for the mysterious soil and seed packages is a practice known as “brushing” in which a company purchases a list of foreign addresses, ships inexpensive parcels to them without explanation, and then claims everyone who received a package is a satisfied customer. The resulting artificially-boosted sales figures, possibly combined with fake reviews written by nonexistent customers, are then used for marketing or financial purposes.