Amid the ongoing health crisis of Covid-19 that has infected more than 4.8 million people and the US, China seems to have allegedly initiated one more attack. The officials in the US have warned residents of the states stretching from Washington to Virginia not to put any seeds in the ground that they haven’t ordered but came in the package from China. The officials said that these could be seeds of invasive species and have the potential to threaten crops or livestock.
The United States Department of Agriculture is collecting the seeds and testing them to see if they possess any danger to agriculture or the environment. The USDA is working on this new possible crisis with different agencies, including state departments and the Customs and Border Protection Department of Homeland Security.
Possible brushing scam
Brushing scams are those in which people receive unsolicited items from a seller to verify the purchase of a much expensive item to review. In such cases, the seller either sends an empty package or sends an item that has zero to little value. The reviews of the customers help the seller in boosting sales. The USDA believes that these packages are part of such scam. They said the packages appear to be coming from China. “[We are] aware that people across the country have received unsolicited packages of seed from China,” they added.
The USDA seems to have identified some of the seeds which include mustard, cabbage and herbs like mint, sage and rosemary. Seeds of flowers like rose and hibiscus were also identified.
States labelled packages as “agricultural smuggling.”
US states, including Washington and Alabama, have labelled these shipments as “agricultural smuggling.” The state agriculture departments have distributed photos in which they showed seeds of different shapes, sizes and colours found in the white or yellow packages.
The packages were wrongly labelled, and some of them had labels related to jewelry. Some of the packages had Chinese writing on them.
China asks US officials to return packages for investigation
Wang Wenbin, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement that the postal service of China strictly abides by the restrictions and do not ship seeds. According to the checks by China’s postal service, the records on the packages appear to be fake. They have asked to send the packages back to China so that they can investigate.
The state officials have asked residents not to open the seed packets and inform officials immediately so that they can come and collect them for further investigation.
Seeds popping up in different countries
According to reports, the “mysterious” seeds have started to pop up in other countries as well. In the last one week people from the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Japan have received unsolicited seeds instead of or with the items they ordered. The Ministry of Agriculture in India have also been alerted about the possible biodiversity attack via China. Keshavulu kunosoth ice president of international seed testing association said in a statement that these seeds possess a threat to food security across the globe. The experts have so far identified 14 varieties of these seeds that include flowering plants like lavender.
Role of Taiwan in the case
Ontario Police tweeted a photo of a seed packet saying that if someone finds seeds in a package originating from Taiwan or China, they should not dispose of them or plant them. The receiver must call the Canadian food inspection agency immediately. Several reports claimed that the seeds originated from Taiwan and the Taiwanese postal service had to issue a clarification that the shipment was via China and not from Taiwan. They have also slapped a fine of around $3500 against the company that sent prohibited items via mail.
If you receive an unsolicited shipment of foreign seeds in the mail from China or Taiwan DO NOT plant or dispose of them. Call the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) at 519 691-1306 or 1 800 442-2342. Unsolicited seeds could be invasive & threaten our environment. ^kj pic.twitter.com/n5hvlFS1W8— OPP Central Region (@OPP_CR) July 28, 2020
Deteriorating relationships between the US and China
In the past couple of years, the relationships between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated over several issues, including Covid-19 pandemic that originated in China. The US has banned many Chinese companies amid trade war, including Huawei. Recently, Trump also announced that he might soon ban the Chinese app TikTok but later gave 45 days to Microsoft as they showed interested in buying the App’s business in four countries including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.