Here’s what to do if you receive unsolicited seeds from China

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico Agriculture (DA) Secretary Carlos A. Flores Ortega confirmed over the weekend that citizens in Puerto Rico have reported the arrival of unsolicited seeds from China.

“In the past few days we have been seeing through the media and social networks packages sent from China to the United States with seeds that have not been requested by citizens. These seeds have arrived in Puerto Rico and as a precaution, we urge anyone who receives a package that has not been ordered by the recipient, to notify the corresponding authorities to immediately remove the contents,” the secretary said.

At this time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with other government entities, continue working on the investigation, identification and determination of risk that the arrival of these unsolicited seeds may entail.

DA Assistant Secretary Jesús Santiago Olivero noted that “we need to identify the seeds to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the agricultural industry or the environment.”

“We are awaiting the evaluation [of seeds] by specialized scientific personnel to address the problem,” he said. “We urge that you do not experiment with planting the seeds because we do not have a clear picture of who is sending them and the purpose. Nor should they be thrown in the trash; they can contain pathogens, pests or invasive species that could be harmful.”

The DA Plant Health Division is working with federal entities to manage the collection of seeds in Puerto Rico and the corresponding evaluation.

Santiago Olivero noted that “it has been reported that the seeds began to arrive in the United States more than two weeks ago and the volume that has been reported already affects at least 22 states in the nation and Canada, which is worrisome because the variety of seeds that have been received can not be specified.”

The official urged any citizens who receive the seeds to follow these recommendations:

* Keep and save the seeds in the original packaging, including the address where the seed was shipped from.

* Do not open the package in which the seeds are stored.

* For no reason should the seeds be planted or manipulated.

* Store the entire contents of the package in a sealed plastic bag.

* Immediately contact the appropriate government entities.

According to press reports, the USDA said in a recorded statement released on July 29 that officials have identified 14 species of the seeds, such as herbs and other plants including hibiscus and mint.

“We have identified 14 different species of seeds, including mustard, cabbage and morning glory, and some of the herbs such as mint, sage, rosemary and lavender, then other seeds such as hibiscus and roses,” said Osama El-Lissy, a deputy administrator for the USDA’s APHIS, according to the online magazine Business Insider.

According to a USDA statement, the mysterious seeds are likely part of “’brushing scam’ in which 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,” the statement said.

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