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Clemson develops reporting site for ‘mystery seeds’

Staff Report //August 3, 2020//

Clemson develops reporting site for ‘mystery seeds’

Staff Report //August 3, 2020//

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Seeds postmarked from China arrived in boxes labelled to contain jewelry. (Photo/Provided)Following a steady stream of requests about unsolicited packages of seeds postmarked from China, Clemson University has launched an online reporting site for recipients.

The site also briefs recipients on how to store and handle the seeds until state and federal officials collect them, entreating South Carolinians to store seeds in a zip-close bag without handling or planting them.

Clemson’s Department of Plant Industry has been at the forefront of the investigation into the seeds, including 14 species identified by the S.C. Department of Agriculture as hibiscus, mustard, cabbage, and morning glory seeds as well as a litany of herbs, according to a news release.

Other species remain unknown at this time, according to the news release, and could harbor a plant disease or invasive species. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service is investigating all affected sites across the country, including areas where seeds were already planted.

 “We have already received hundreds of reports of these seed packages from citizens of South Carolina and are trying to streamline the process and make it as easy as possible for people who have been affected,” Steve Cole, director of Clemson’s Regulatory Services unit, said in the news release.

APHIS reports that the shipments appear to be a “brushing scam” used by online sellers to rack up on false positive reviews to boost sales after sending items to unsuspecting “customers.”

“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,” said last week’s APHIS news release on the seeds. “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.”